Threesome


by David Lally · July 20, 2015


threesome

Quinn Franzen, Alia Attallah and Karan Oberoi | Hunter Canning

Threesome, the new show at 59E59 is the perfect come-on. The poster and program for the show feature a woman flanked by two men in bed. It is recommended for ages 17+, contains male and female nudity, strong language, and mature content. So once you have lured me into the theater with that titillating title, provocative photo and recommendation, will I have a satisfying experience?

Yussef El Guindi’s play starts off like a light bedroom farce, but cleverly keeps the threesome of Leila (Alia Attallah), Rashid (Karan Oberoi) and Doug (Quinn Franzen) out of bed. Leila, a westernized Egyptian writer, now living in America, has gotten her husband Rashid, to invite a stranger they met at an industry event over for a threesome. Leila is getting ready to have her book published and Rashid, a photographer, is hoping to be the one to photograph her for the book cover. It’s unclear at first why Leila wants to do this but she keeps convincing herself that this will be a good thing for her marriage. These potential swingers are amateurs and it takes Doug, their guest, to try and get the ball rolling. What happens next is a very humorous and lively dance about men and women and sexual and gender politics and stereotypes. It’s chock full of laughs. Leila constantly compares American men’s behavior and treatment of women to Arab men while her husband tries to convince her that men are just as sensitive as women and have issues, too, specifically body issues. Leila inadvertently insults both her husband and the stranger, resulting in an explosive misunderstanding and a revelation that sets up the second act.

Unfortunately, the second act gets weighted down with issues and secrets, which, in and of themselves, are interesting and further the discussions of the first act, especially concerning the misconceptions about gender, the Middle East and U.S. perceptions about the Middle East. But the play starts to derail a bit when it starts honing in on specific issues of women and Arab culture and the playwright keeps trying to press a point but somehow never gets to it. The buoyancy of the dialogue and the likeability of the characters and the story, which made the first act shine, all are compromised when it becomes obvious that the playwright doesn’t know how to end his play. It felt like the playwright just ran out of story so… bam! Gratuitous ending.

The actors are all engaging, but Quinn Franzen steals the show with his flamboyant, nervous, quirky, hung-up Doug. When he shows up onstage, you can’t take your eyes off him (and not just because he is stark naked for most of the first act). When he needs to be more serious in the second act, the laughter quickly turns to empathy. Karan Oberoi gives Rashid a more conservative and uptight personality, the proper weight to balance Doug’s all-over-the-map personality. Alia Attallah is consistently the voice of reason with a very carefully measured performance. Even when the second act compromises the integrity of their characters a bit, all three manage to justify their characters’ behavior and continue to keep them grounded through some puzzling changes in character. What really sinks the second act is Doug’s story of being an embedded war reporter and his encounter and heartless treatment of a Muslim woman he meets there. Yes, the character is supposed to be a bit oblivious, but it seems completely out of character for him to be conveying to Leila this story, in light of what has happened in her bedroom. It is excused by a lazy plot device that he hasn’t read the book she wrote, otherwise he would know not to share with her such a horrible story. But with or without that plot device, it turns Doug into an insensitive dolt, who should know a story like his is best saved for the locker room. Somehow, Doug isn’t completely trashed due to Mr. Franzen’s performance, but he is definitely fighting an uphill battle against the script. Conversely, Mr. Oberoi’s explosive behavior in the second act is warranted because he has read the book and it brings us some of the most interesting moments of the play. The direction by Chris Coleman is swift and even though the second act misfires, it never lags and is never boring. The scenic design is beautiful, simple and functional.

Great title, great premise and a great first act. It’s in retrospect, though, that the play really let me down. When it turned serious and needed to dig deep, it came up short and, like the promise of a good time, it couldn’t live up to its own expectations. Still, I would recommend seeing this show, if only for the dynamite first act and the performances. It may run out of steam in the second half, but the issues it raises are complex and worth talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

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