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Reviews Off-Broadway Published 2 August 2015

Threesome

59E59 Theaters ⋄ 11 July - 23 August 2015

Bedroom talk.

Richard Patterson
"Threesome"

Two’s company. Photo: Hunter Canning

Weighty themes take center stage in playwright Yussef El Guindi’s dark comedy Threesome, currently running at 59E59 Theaters in a co-production by Portland Center Stage and A Contemporary Theatre (ACT). Sex, identity, politics, and religion all play a part in the lives of the play’s three characters, Leila and Rashid (an Egyptian American couple who are, respectively, an author and an aspiring photographer), and Doug, the awkward third wheel thrust in the middle of their tense relationship as a result of the couple’s perhaps ill-advised decision to have a threesome.

The play begins as a sort of comedy of manners, with a touch of sex farce for good measure. Leila and Rashid’s bedroom banter at the top of the play is eventually interrupted by the entrance of Doug, fully nude, from the bathroom (where he’s apparently been dealing with some scatological issues much to Rashid’s chagrin as an apparent germophobe).

The play’s first act benefits from the awkwardness of Leila and Rashid’s interactions with Doug and the tensions of their prior history, but the froth of the play’s sexual energy is undercut by El Guindi’s emphasis on the political and philosophical implications of their awkward fumblings rather than on the heat of the situation. What results is dramatically diffuse despite a dynamite premise and game performances from all three actors, Alia Attallah as Leila, Karan Oberoi as Rashid, and Quinn Franzen as Doug.

Between acts, Leila and Rashid’s bedroom has retreated, giving way to the kitschy, quasi-Orientalist set of a photo shoot for Leila’s book cover. At center is a platform almost in the shape of a bed, covered harem-style in pillows. Upstage, an abaya hangs from the back wall of the set, awaiting the woman of the hour.

Along with this hyper-charged setting comes heightened stakes, but by the evening’s halfway mark, it’s difficult to care much about the play’s characters, who are more types than fully fleshed-out people. El Guindi introduces a host of hot-button issues into the mix – including sexual assault, religious intolerance, and cultural stereotyping and appropriation – but without rooting these issues more fully within the lives of his characters, the playwright’s mission to truly illuminate his subjects’ journeys is ultimately thwarted.

Criticisms aside, Threesome still opens up dialogues not often explored on New York stages. Like Pulitzer-winner Disgraced before it, Threesome confronts issues of gender and Muslim identity head-on, and its powerful final scene, which pits self-congratulatory western narratives of Muslim culture against the realities of Middle Eastern experience, provides ample food for thought. That the play never entirely finds its footing doesn’t lessen El Guindi’s efforts; even if his tragicomedy of manners is a flawed one, voices like his are still a necessary and welcome addition to the theatre scene.

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Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

Threesome Show Info


Directed by Chris Coleman

Written by Yussef El Guindi

Cast includes Alia Attallah, Quinn Franzen, Karan Oberoi

Link http://www.59e59.org

Running Time 2 hrs (with one intermission)

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