You can't really call it life imitating art, unless you believe the Monkees constituted life and "The Brady Bunch" constituted art.
But 20 years after then-teen idol Davy Jones, a real-life Monkee, agreed to go to the prom with Marcia Brady, the de-clawed sexpot of TV's archetypal happy family, Jones is back, making Marcia the most blissed-out kid in her fictional high school in "The Real Live Brady Bunch."
This, lest you have not heard, is the play at the Westwood Playhouse in which the audience is reduced to helpless laughter, not by a parody of the classic TV show, but by a mere re-creation of the actual scripts.
Which brings us to Jones. Twenty years ago, Jones was the Cockney-accented heartthrob of the Monkees, the first and, by far, the most successful of the bubble gum rock groups created by the Hollywood record industry to separate teen-agers from their allowances. Way back then, some evil genius had an idea. Why not have Jones, the cute Monkee, make a guest appearance on "The Brady Bunch," the wildly successful TV show that gave lie to the truth, universally acknowledged, that every blended family is a purgatory of conflicted loyalties?
The result is TV history. When this reporter told her editor that she was considering doing a story on Jones' appearance in the play, the otherwise normal editor paused not a nanosecond and began to recite the plot line of the classic episode.
Is this a great culture, or what?
Davy Jones is now 46. He has four daughters Marcia's age or older. But Jones is as wise as he is short. He knows that somewhere deep in the American unconscious he has a permanent place, a place in which he is inextricably linked to the thoroughly fictional Marcia Brady, the blondest and spunkiest of the terminally perky Brady girls. "How's Marcia?" people ask Jones at airports around the world. "Did you and Marcia ever get together?"
No, he and Marcia never got together. His was a guest spot on a TV show. But television, as Jones is acutely aware, is a remarkable medium, one that can take an otherwise banal moment and etch it eternally into the consciousness of millions.
Jones had already been nominated for a Tony for his performance as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway production of "Oliver" when he was cast to play a version of himself as one of the Monkees. But who remembers? All the public remembers is the look of non-prurient ecstasy on Marcia's face when Davy appeared at the Brady front door.
"I still have the jacket I wore on the show, and it still fits," said Jones, who is staying with two of his daughters in West Los Angeles. Jones, who has a jockey's license in his native England, is as trim today as he was 20 years ago. "I don't want to be a little fat guy, you know what I mean?" Age and its attendant poundage can be especially hard on the slight, he noted. Look at Dudley Moore. "He's looking a little puffed."
Jones said he is doing the Brady Bunch play because it is a "doodle." From the context, it is clear that a doodle is what you and I call a hoot. "For me to act, it's like getting money for nothing."
Jones has already done the Brady Bunch to sold-out houses in New York, and he admits that a large part of his reason for doing the gig is exposure. The public remembers the Monkees. "Whether they be the stewardesses at the airport, or the doctors I go to." The trick now, he said, is to get the producers to take notice. He can sing, he can dance, he can act, Jones said. Now all he needs is a deal.
Like others of his era, Jones resents the fact that other people are making money on re-runs of "The Monkees" and "The Brady Bunch," not the original players. But he still performs. He has a band, and he regularly appears in "Oliver," although now he plays Fagin ("the old man"), not the artful, youthful Dodger.
Drugs never undid Jones, although he admits to having smoked the occasional joint, and he has not forsworn alcohol. The first night he was in town, he started at McGinty's and ended up at Chez Jay's, an old haunt. A pal was the designated driver.
"He was on the orange juice. I was on the Guinness. I drink like any other guy. I go to the pub, and I get s---faced once in a while, but I'm not the last one to leave the bar."
When Jones knocks on the door of the Westwood stage, the girl with her heart in her mouth will be Becky Thyre, 25, who plays Marcia. "I hear audiences go crazy for him, which is what I would expect." (Jones will appear through Wednesday. The play continues through July 5. For ticket information, call (310) 208-5454.)
Thyre is too young to have been a Monkees fan, but she thinks she understands why the teen idol was so attractive to young girls.
"Teen-age girls fall in love a lot of the time with these androgynous, non-threatening rock stars." The Davy Jones of the original "Brady Bunch" episode seemed almost childlike to her, she said, and she has much the same feeling about the young men who appear on the current teen mega-hit, "Beverly Hills, 90210."
"They don't look like men to me. They look like little dolls."
She had her own teen-age crush, she confessed, on Duran Duran bass player John Taylor.
Thyre speculated that "The Real Live Brady Bunch," which has almost a cult following, is art younger audiences can relate to. "I don't think they feel a strong connection to 'Long Day's Journey Into Night.' "
Thyre acknowledges the insidious power of popular shows such as "The Brady Bunch."
"I think we all measure our lives against the media representations of what our lives are supposed to be," she said.
The Thyres were a far cry from the Bradys. "We'd have screaming fits. All the kids beating each other up. All this dysfunctional stuff. My parents got divorced. Because of TV, because of how powerful it is, I think a lot of people thought their families were unique in their dysfunction."
Marcia is the Brady that feminists most love to hate, and Thyre is no exception. "Marcia is an oppressive image to me," she said. "She's what every high school girl in her heart is fearing she's not measuring up to. It's Shannen Doherty now," she said, alluding to the "Beverly Hills, 90210" star.
"There's nothing I like better than when Marcia does something mean so that the audience yells, 'Bitch!' at me," Thyre noted happily.