Here's a Story About
a Bunch Called Brady

By Nicole Hollander

New York Times - July 22, 1990


The lines are long, but people still wait patiently outside the Annoyance Theater for tickets to "The Real Live Brady Bunch." The play, which is a reenactment of episodes from the popular television show that ran from 1969 to 1974, has been playing sold-out houses at the 110-seat Annoyance Theater last June.

The day I visited, people were in line by 11 A.M., and tickets for both shows that evening were sold out by 12:45. Most of those waiting were about 25. Some were unemployed, thinking about going back to school, or maybe waiting tables while waiting to find a goal in life. Many of those with jobs were in entry-level positions in sales or advertising.

One young woman had brought her dog. I asked her if the Bradys had a dog. She looked me in disbelief for a moment and then said: "Tiger."

Most of those in line had seen the play several times. Through years of reruns they had followed the TV Brady bunch— the parents, Mike and Carol, his three sons and her three daughters—from childhood. They saw all the episodes. They could shout out catch phrases from an episode and identify them instantly: "Mom says don't play ball in the house." (from "Confessions, Confessions").

Did their families resemble the Bradys?

"The Bradys never got into trouble; we always got into trouble," one of them said. Many identified with Jan, the middle sister. They know about sibling rivalry. They know about never quite measuring up.

A new episode of "The Real Live Brady Bunch" is staged every two weeks. The TV show's production values were bland and tacky: the bright colors and even lighting— there were no shadows in the Brady house— gave the show the flat look of a cartoon. Sets for the stage version are cheesier still, reduced to a chair, a table, a cup.

The dialogue comes word for word from the TV show, but it's the bald presentation, the inflections, the just slightly odd-the-mark execution, that make the play so funny. "Let's go tell Greg we're sorry for acting like selfish brats," Marcia says in one episode. When lines like this are delivered in the setting of the Annoyance Theater, they sound both surrealistic and hilarious.

The audience returns again and again. After all, this is the whiter white-bread version of their real lives. Now that it's the 90's, there's the added fillip of astonishment that they ever swallowed the Bradys whole. But they love it. They scream when Marcia flips her hair. They laugh and shout, their enthusiasm fanned by the party atmosphere in the theater.

"The Real Live Brady Bunch" was created by two sisters, Jill and Faith Soloway, for the Metraform Theater Company, which specializes in plays created from the improvisation of their group members. Like their audience, the Soloway sisters are in their mid-20's. They say they are amazed by the success of the show. At the beginning of the run, they would go up to the roof of the theater just to marvel at the length of the lines below.

The years of reruns allowed millions of children like the Soloway sisters to come home from school, turn on the set and share their after-school snacks with the Brady brunch. Jill and Faith, along with countless others of their generation, watched the Bradys in reruns every day and continued to tune in through high school and college. Why did they like "The Brady Bunch," better than other family shows?

Jill Soloway has a theory. "You couldn't have a fantasy about 'The Partridge Family', after ail, they were related. Keith and Laurie couldn't be in a romance because they were brother and sister, and they acted like brother and sister. But Marcia and Greg flirted all the time, consciously or unconsciously.

Faith mentions a Brady Cult. "Any time the Bradys are mentioned on stage anywhere there's an immediate response," she says "Everybody wanted to be a Brady. Everyone wanted their parents to be consumed with their problems. The quintessential Brady scene is Carol and Mike knocking on the kids bedroom door and asking: 'Can we come in?' and then sitting on their bed and discussing the problem."

Recently The Soloways got a phone call from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, who was doing "Gilligan's Island" on stage there. He got the idea from reading about "The Real Live Brady Bunch" and considers Faith and Jill his mentors. The Soloway sisters are not pleased. Sure, they did the play because they were interested in what a TV show would look like on stage. But it wasn't any old TV show; it was "The Brady Bunch."

The show was born the day Jill's friend Becky Thyre entertained them with a perfect imitation of Marcia, the oldest Brady sister. Ms. Thyre plays Marcia in the play and looks uncannily like her, with her hair parted in the middle and hanging straight down, framing her pretty face. But she's taller than a real Brady. In fact, everyone on stage is just slightly taller and chunkier than the perfect Bradys.

Susan Messing, the actress who plays Cindy (the youngest girl Brady), is a bit too old for pigtails and her very short skirts, but then so was the original Cindy. Melanie Hutsel who plays Jan, speaks in a monotone even more marked than the monotone of the original. She's my favorite, so tightly wired that her anxieties seem demented.

"The Brady Bunch" ran during the height of the Vietnam War without ever mentioning it. The show focused on small, easily solved family traumas. In my favorite episode, "Every Boy Does It Once," Bobby, the baby-boy Brady whose self-esteem is already threatened by having to wear his brothers' hand-me-downs, is watching "Cinderella" (this is one of the few TV shows in which people actually watch TV) when his own stepmother, Carol, comes down to the rec room and asks him to sweep out the fireplace. He's inconsolable.

Carol senses that Bobby is feeling unloved and immediately goes to Mike. He is about to attend a meeting with a client, but he feels the problem with Bobby is so serious that he forgets about the meeting, and he and Carol run off to buy Bobby a bike.

Meanwhile, Bobby decides to run away. While endlessly packing and repacking his suitcase, he tells his brother Peter he is running away. Peter tells Greg and Greg tells Alice. Can't keep a secret in this family.

Back at the bike store, Carol and Mike have an epiphany and realize that in buying Bobby this bike they are trying to buy his love. Appalled, they rush home. Meanwhile, Alice is desperately calling all over town trying to locate Carol and Mike. In the nick of time, Carol and Mike arrive. Alice tells them of the crisis, and as Carol and Mike rush upstairs to knock on Bobby's bedroom door (`'Can we come in?"), Carol tells Mike she has a plan.

Upstairs, Mike tells Bobby he wouldn't want him to stay if he wasn't happy. Think of the opportunities for irony a situation like this would offer Bill Cosby's TV family, the Huxtables. In that household, the scenario might involve bringing Bobby to the realization that he can't survive without his parents' protection.

In the Brady family, the resolution is gentler, Mike asks Bobby what skills he has with which to earn a living. Bobby says he's good at finger-painting and gluing. Mike says he's sure Bobby will find a job and carries his suitcase downstairs.

Carol is waiting at the foot of the stairs with her suitcase. She is going to leave home with Bobby. She loves him so much she will go on the road with him, tie her fortunes to a man whose skills are finger-painting and gluing. (Oh, well, we've all done that at one time or another')

How many people dwelled on the show and episodes like these? In "Letter to the Next Generation," a documentary about today's Kent State students, the film maker Jim Kline finds that among the students he interviewed—activists and party animals, black and white alike — everyone knew the words to the "Brady Bunch" song.

Many of them, who now think it was a stupid show, are a bit shamefaced when they admit to having watched it all the time. Nonetheless, they know the show was an important part of their lives. What can replace it? This generation is at an awkward age— too old for `'The Brady Bunch," too young for "Thirtysomething."