Icky Menage: Threesome

 

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by: JK Clarke

 

 

American society seems to be going through an era of progressive change in human sexuality. More and more are sexual scenarios once considered scandalous and deviant have begun to fall under the category of “alternate lifestyles.” So it’s perfectly reasonable that a play should emerge about a couple attempting to engage in threeway sex with another man. That play, Threesome, now at 59E59 Theaters, appears at first to handle the scenario artfully, weaving in humor and differing points of view in an even-handed manner. Unfortunately, by the second half, the story strays the path and Threesome attempts to become far more than it needs to. While Playwright Yussef El Guindi manages to breach this very alluring territory in some parts of the play, he overreaches and the story gets away.

The first half of Threesome is compelling, albeit somewhat uncomfortable and rather outrageous. At the play’s open, Leila (Alia Attallah) and Rashid (Karan Oberoi) are sitting in bed, dressed in rather modest nightclothes in their modern, well-appointed bedroom in a large American city. Their discomfort and bickering reveals they are in the midst of something, probably sexual, out of their comfort zone. That something is soon revealed by the emergence from the off-stage bathroom of Doug (the excellent Quinn Franzen), the missing piece of their planned ménage à trois. Problem is, Doug, despite his clean, attractive, wholesome (and bare) appearance, is tactless, seemingly clueless and graced with a serious over-sharing problem. Unintentionally, his role is complete farce. He is Homer Simpson as lothario. Under no circumstance would a real-world couple have considered going ahead with the tryst after Doug’s initial line or two of libido-assassinating dialog (or the circumstance—prior to curtain—which caused him to leave the room in the first place). But, here it’s treated as a moment of discomfort. And that’s when El Guindi’s play loses us the first time. Really, the threesome is a device to prompt a number of pedantic discussions about the nature of gender-roles and sexuality in multicultural environments. The ensuing dialog is far too academic and philosophical to be believed. Nonetheless, the first half of the play is filled with delightful comic moments, largely thanks to Franzen’s Doug. Try to imagine a naked Stan Laurel trying to engage with a couple in the midst of a cultural and relationship crisis. Franzen’s timing is impeccable, as he glances at the pair, on either side of him in the bed, realizing that he is absolutely in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s a sweet imbecile with a tender heart and, as it turns out, not so naive—nor as innocent—as it would at first appear.

Things devolve further in Act II, when the action is switched to Doug’s studio, where he is to photograph Leila for the cover of her forthcoming novel. Leila and Rashid, it turns out, traveled to Egypt to participate in the Arab Spring uprisings, where, like in most revolutions, awful and unpleasant events took place that would change them forever. Leila is “sick of being afraid all the time,” she tells Rashid, and this is what has led her to attempt to assimilate with the very western sexual scenario of Act I. However, at this point the play is no longer about sexual quagmires, but about cultural and gender role identities. It is, in fact, an entirely different play than the first half and not as ​interesting. We do get to understand more about Leila and why she initiated the scenario to begin with, but we were primed for a different discussion in the first half and it never was properly concluded. Attallah’s performance as Leila is as mixed as the character, showing signs of depth and brilliance at times, and complete superficiality at others.

Director Chris Coleman did what he could with the production, but what it needed most was editing. A play not about sexuality, but rather about good intentions gone bad, Threesome is a series of missed opportunities, the most significant being a compelling play about modern sexuality.
Threesome. Through August 23 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues). www.59e59.org

Photos: Hunter Canning

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