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Three Theatres Riff on "Three's Company" The unusual collaboration behind the comedy "3C"

By ERIC GRODE

It apparently takes three companies to take on Three's Company.

Nobody bats an eye at seeing as many as two dozen producers listed above the title of a big-budget Broadway show. But now the strength-in-numbers mentality has begun to permeate the off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway communities as well. The latest example: 3C, a dark comedy from playwright David Adjmi.

In the play, a libidinous young man with an even more libidinous pal finds himself sharing an apartment with two lovely young women, all under the watchful eyes of a retrograde landlord and his manic wife. The setup, albeit with a gay-friendly twist, will be familiar with anyone who caught any of the 172 episodes of Three's Company, that dopily lovably sitcom from the 1970s. In another nod to the decade, Dance Fever host Deney Terio choreographs the show, which is now in previews at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre.

Sharing producing credit with Rattlestick are two smaller companies, Rising Phoenix Repertory and Piece by Piece Productions. "They were certainly the instigators behind it," Rattlestick artistic director David Van Asselt says of the other two organizations. "I mean, I may have done it without them, but when you're thinking about all the plays you're gonna do, it's important to have these voices to say, 'Pay attention to this.'"

The same trio joined forces in 2009 to produce Daniel Talbott's play Slipping. To give a sense of the cross-pollination at work, Talbott, also happens to be the artistic director of Rising Phoenix and a literary manager at Rattlestick; Van Asselt, in turn, played a central role in coaxing that play into its final shape.

"There's a synergy that feeds the process," says Wendy Vanden Heuvel, the founder and artistic director of Piece by Piece. "Plus you're not so alone." (Or, as Talbott describes it, "I wouldn't want to go through this and not be able to call Wendy and say, 'What the f--- should we do?'")

Talbott, Van Asselt and Vanden Heuvel, along with Addie Johnson, an artistic associate at Rising Phoenix (and Talbott's wife), all give different explanations for why this form of collaboration isn't more common. The current model of funding individual theatres is one factor, and a compatible mindset among the companies can be hard to attain. "It takes a little bit of skill to keep the egos out of the way," says Vanden Heuvel, who speaks from experience: She was involved with a Broadway revival of Medea in 2002 and remembers heated discussions about whether Euripides's name would be bigger or smaller than those of the producers.

Talbott and Adjmi were in Juilliard's playwriting program at the same time, and so Rising Phoenix was a logical collaborator on 3C. Rising Phoenix and Piece by Piece also worked with Adjmi on his previous work, Elective Affinities, joining with Soho Rep to present the play in an Upper East Side townhouse.

As for 3C, Johnson says it fits neatly into all three presenters' aesthetics precisely because the groups come fairly unencumbered with mission statements or defining aesthetics. "Rattlestick hasn't crafted an identity around David, which makes it unusual, I think," she says. "With all three of these companies, there's a shared commitment to artist-driven work."

Purely on a practical level, she says, "it helps that Rattlestick has a theatre." And while its size makes it first among equals in many ways, Van Asselt is hardly throwing his weight around on the <i>3C</i>set. "My job," he says, "is just to say yes to everything."

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Eric Grode is the author of the recently released "Hair: The Story of the Show That Defined a Generation" (Running Press).