“Threesome” at ACT

In pre-play publicity this is called a “provocative” play, and it’s certainly that, but it’s also brilliantly conceived and skillfully rendered. Playwright Yussef el Guindi begins this work as a comedy yet by the time it’s over, you may well be moved to tears. In the least, you’ll be forced to confront issues related to women’s place in society and the conflicting worldviews of East and West.

Threesome Cast Vertical - photo by Sebastien Scandiuzzi_thumb

Doug, Lila, Rashid photo by Sebastien Scandiuzzi

Director Chris Coleman and his production crew begin “Threesome” in an elegant but minimally appointed bedroom. The bed overwhelms the stage, and well it should. Leila and Rashid, a highly educated, professional Egyptian-Arab-American couple, are waiting for a third party to join them in that bed for a threesome.

The atmosphere is tense, nervous, uncomfortable. They’ve never done this before. In walks naked Doug, all ready to go. He’s not at all uneasy. In fact he’s ready to jump in and get this tryst underway. Leila and Rashid don’t quite know what they expected or how it would develop, but clearly this is a bit more than they had in mind.

The confusions, embarrassments, misunderstandings, and sexual awkwardnesses are all designed to make the audience laugh, a bit uncomfortably perhaps, but they work very well. These are consummate actors all. Alia Attallah as Leila, Karan Oberoi as Rashid, and Quinn Franzen as Doug bring every emotion to their roles, knowing just how far to take the moment.

Act II is a photo-shoot for the cover of the book that Leila’s written. Her publisher has arranged it. She’s excited about the thought, but unprepared for what’s actually been planned. The scene has been set to suggest an opulent sultan’s palace. Rich red and orange Oriental rugs are draped over and under a raised platform. Boldly embroidered pillows lie in stacks on the floor and the platform. There’s even a burqa hanging on the back wall. The set screams “stereotype,” “Oriental retro fantasia.” It speaks to assumptions about women and their role in society. Leila wants no part of it. The tone in this act is somber. Revelations are made. Personal wounds are revealed.

All three of these characters have experienced pain, and we can’t help but be moved as their scars are revealed. Most wounded of all is Leila, the elegant, successful woman. As her story unravels, so do our emotions. Slowly but surely, the author has turned his light comedy into an incredibly powerful commentary on the place women hold in societies east and west, and the stereotypes that blind us and bind us.

This is powerful theatre, too good to miss.

Through June 28 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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