Three's Company: The Drama at Sundance's New Frontier

Taking a step (or two) that is new, the team behind James Franco's installation Three's Company: The Drama premiered a cheekily re-enacted episode from the beloved 70s sitcom at last night's opening party for New Frontier at the Sundance Film Festival.

The four-wall projection installation normally features doctored and sonically remixed footage from the actual show, but this special screening featured Franco and company in slapdash drag, reinterpreting the show's broad comedic dialogue as a breathless, self-serious soap opera. A small crowd crammed into a shoebox replica of Jack Tripper's living room, spilling into the adjoining exhibits to complement the haphazard, impromptu spirit of the film, which stars an asymmetrically blonde Franco as Jack, a bearded man (Tyler Danna) as short-shorts-wearing Chrissy, and Franco's own assistant, Dana Morgan, as Janet.

Photo:Brandon Joseph Baker.

Though Franco himself was a no-show last night, Richard Kline, who played Jack's carousing hipster neighbor, Larry, on the original show, was on hand to give the meta-proceedings his blessing. "Playing it for real made it even more hilarious," he said afterwards. "Because there wasn't that badum-bump, rim-shot. The desperateness came out, the desperateness of all the characters. And that made it funny in a non-formulaic way." Kline stood beside his ersatz double, Vince Jolivette (pictured above), who was wearing the same disheveled black wig he'd donned to play an even sleazier Larry in the re-enactment. Jolivette, who also co-produced the piece (he's collaborated on numerous of Franco's recent experiments), claimed that 98% of the dialogue came directly from the show's original script. Between a scatological riff on the show's theme song and a moment of full-frontal flashing, it wasn't hard to spot the 2% of new material. Kline was eager to set the record straight. "I never showed my genitals," he said. "Well, not on camera."

Photo:Brandon Joseph Baker.

As the party began to migrate to other parts of the Miners Hospital, this year's setting for New Frontier, Kline lingered to talk about the "comedy machine" that was Three's Company, sharing anecdotes about John Ritter's gifts as a physical comedian, Don Knotts's dependence on cue cards, and the mythology of his blow-dried chest hair. "It had this reputation of being risqué, but it was really tame by today's standards," he said. And that time-capsule quality of the show is part of why viewers still seek out reruns. "People love nostalgia, to say wasn't that charming and quaint," he said. But because of the strength of the comedy, "you're still able to laugh." Though not in quite the same way that viewers are likely to respond to Franco's floridly sub-textual reinterpretation.

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