“Remember Me?”, now playing at the Hunterdon Hills Playhouse in western New Jersey, is about the life of actress Joyce DeWitt, famous forty years ago for the hit show “Three’s Company,” and ever since married to one of her fans and admirers, played by the impressively tall Jeffrey Atherton. Who should come knock on their door but Joyce’s old boyfriend and co-star, the late John Ritter, portrayed with smarm and swagger by Mike Levin. Ritter’s arrival sweeps both the bemused Joyce and her befuddled husband into a more ribald episode of the old sitcom than Mr. Roper or the censors would ever have allowed. All that’s missing is Suzanne Somers, and she shows up after intermission (played by the youthful Hannah Arnold Welsko) with diva turns and thighmaster exercises that annoy pretty much everybody.
OK, the previous paragraph is not exactly an accurate description of the drama at hand, nor is it fair to anyone in the production, especially Ms. DeWitt. Her accomplishments in the performing arts fill a whole page in the playbill, and among them are roles in Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill, as well as dozens of musicals and other plays. She’s acted with a who’s who of Hollywood stars, she’s hosted award ceremonies at the White House and the Kennedy Center, she has volunteered for charities that fight hunger and homelessness. My guess is that she could retire to a comfortable life wherever she wanted to be, but no, she is still trodding the boards for the pleasure of anyone who wants to see her, and that includes sold-out crowds of senior citizens at a dinner theater in New Jersey.
The previous paragraph is also not fair to the supporting actors, all of whom are seasoned professionals who know exactly what they are doing. Mr. Atherton fumes and stews and wields weapons like foot spray and a fire extinguisher in the tradition of fine comics everywhere. Mr. Levin steps into the role of the fantasy lover as if he were born to play it, and his knowing winks in response to the mayhem he triggers allow the audience to relish the mayhem too. The production implicitly guarantees that our comfortably married couple, named Mary and Brian Hanson, will wind up in each other’s arms by the conclusion, so everyone is happy to go along for the ride.
Nevertheless, we (meaning the audience) are here for a specific reason, and it has very little to do with the foibles of the Hansons. We are not really here for the lasagna or Atlantic cod (both of which were OK) nor for the cheesecake squares and raspberry mousse from the dessert table (which were outstanding.) I would argue that we are not even here for nostalgia. After all, the 1970s are available for free on YouTube. A table at the dinner theater is a chunk of change.
No, we are here to be blessed by Joyce, with whom we are on a first-named basis. That’s because she was a television star, which meant she was in our living rooms. Not only did she act on a successful sitcom, but she was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and a competitor on Battle of the Network Stars. They don’t make celebrities like that anymore. Like us, Joyce now has a head of gray hair and walks a little more ploddingly than we remember, but she has survived all these years and has withstood whatever challenges she faced. Now she is calling to us with a farcical story and plenty of jokes and an underlying message of….well, I’m not exactly sure what that message is. Maybe something about intimacy and honesty, or the inherent absurdity of being an adult human with a libido. Or maybe there’s no message whatsoever. What exactly was “Three’s Company” about? Beats me. But still it was good times, and in the weird way of successful television, a part of our shared history, and so a part of ourselves.
We are here to feel alive. It’s good to feel alive.
After the play ends, Joyce takes the stage and talks for a full fifteen minutes. She acknowledges absolutely everyone, including tech support and the wait staff. She gives affectionate hugs and tributes to her three co-stars and shares lots of personal information about them. She thanks the audience for their patronage and good attention, and sends us on our way.
Thanks for the show, Joyce and team. God bless us everyone.