BWW Reviews: A Very Tangled THREESOME at Portland Center Stage

BWW Reviews: A Very Tangled THREESOME at Portland Center Stage

Threesome is one of the most difficult plays I've ever had to review, and as I'm sitting at my desk typing this I honestly have no idea what on earth to tell you about it. It's a thoughtful script about Arab-American relations, a wacky comedy about a couple who invite another man into their sex life, and a dry look at how men and women view each other. And while each of these things is interesting, they make for very strange bedfellows...as do the three characters in the play.

Yussef El Guindi's play begins in a California bedroom, where Rashid and Laila, longtime partners, are in their night clothes, discussing a variety of topics including e-cigarettes, male and female body image, and their respective professions (she's a writer, he's a photographer). Suddenly they are joined by Doug, who they've invited to join them for the night. Doug is a chatty guy, nattering on about his therapy sessions and other offbeat topics while he climbs into bed with Rashid and Laila, who are having second thoughts about the whole threesome thing.

There are deeper undercurrents here. Laila has written a book, and while Rashid would like to design the cover, it turns out that her publisher has hired Doug instead. And there are references to something that happened while Rashid and Laila were visiting Cairo during the upheavals a couple of years ago, but this is not spelled out. Still, the first act is hilarious, believable, and very real in its exploration of male/female relationships.

The second act, however, goes in a completely different direction. The playwright has clearly wirtten Threesome as a political allegory; Laila perhaps representing the Arab world, Doug the clueless Americans, and Rashid (American born, of Egyptian descent) perhaps representing Arab-Americans, caught in between their lives in this country and their loyalty to their ancestral homelands? I'm not completely sure. We're at the photo shoot for Laila's book cover, and Doug is trying to convince her to pose in a traditional outfit when Rashid bursts in drunkenly. The humor of the first act is gone, and we're subjected to a long argument between Rashid and Laila, followed by a monologue from Doug about his experiences in the Middle East. Whatever point the play is trying to make is lost in the shuffle.

Director Chris Coleman has fashioned a solid production, however. He can't do anything about the change in tone, but he makes Act One as funny and awkward as real life, while making sure Act Two remains compelling. We get caught up in the characters' lives so closely that we forgive their constant yelling after intermission; Coleman makes the play so intimate that we can't back away.

Here is as good a place as any to talk about the nudity. Normally I object strongly to nudity in theater (and in film); it's too literal, too distracting, and most people find themselves thinking about the actors instead of the characters - how attractive they are, what it must be like being naked on stage (and in rehearsal), whether they would have the courage to do such a thing, etc. Yet in Threesome I wasn't bothered by it. First of all, the play has been carefully advertised (and with a title like Threesome, you're fairly well forewarned), and most of the nudity is played for laughs in the first act. However, once two of the actors disrobe, you'll find yourself waiting and wondering when the third will join in, and that may prove distracting. Or not. Perhaps you're a more discerning patron than me.

The performances, under the circumstances, are quite good. Alia Attallah is remarkable as Laila, sexy, funny, spirited, and wise, with devastating comic timing, and even when the script takes the humor out of her hands, she remains intriguing until the very end of the play. Dominic Rains as Rashid has the least interesting of the characters, but he finds a way to make the man endearing even as he's being a jerk. Quinn Franzen runs the gamut as Doug, goofy and caricatured at the beginning, then gradually revealing a deeper heart, and then putting a colder facade on top of that; he remains relaxed and easygoing throughout, even as he delivers that second-act monologue that would trip up a lesser talent.

Threesome is all over the place, yet it's never dull, and it may reveal nuances to you that I completely missed. All I can say is that I think they should play the first act twice and skip the second. Or maybe write a third act that makes sense of the first two.


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