AS ANYONE who's read Savage Love already knows, the three-way can be the most exciting and trickiest of sexual waters to navigate. Open, honest communication should already be in place, and strict ground rules must be set and adhered to, lest this delicate balancing act collapse like a clumsy game of Jenga. Apparently, no one in Portland Center Stage's production of Threesome has ever read a Savage Love column in their lives.
Penned by playwright Yussef El Guindi, Threesome tells the tale of Leila and Rashid—an Egyptian American couple who invite a relative stranger, Doug, into their bed to, as Leila puts it, "prove a point." That point being that women—and especially Egyptian women—are just as capable of following their sexual desires and fantasies as their male counterparts... but it turns out there's much more to her point than that. What plays out is an updated version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with the hyper-intellectual Leila and Rashid filling in for George and Martha, and exchanging jabs on feminism, body image, misogyny, homophobia, paternalism, and even Egyptian/American politics—as the naked Doug lies there in bed, patiently waiting to get laid.
Let's get this out of the way: Those attending Threesome for a sexy/wacky bedroom comedy should adapt their expectations. Playwright El Guindi has built an elaborate, intellectual, and dense treatise, where sex, international politics, and feminism intersect. It's a dizzying piece, which is simultaneously funny, thought-provoking, and brave. It's also overwritten, obtuse at times, and occasionally takes the easy way out.
El Guindi has a beautiful command of language, and expresses extremely difficult ideas with pinpoint accuracy. At the same time... people don't talk like that, which keeps the audience from emotionally connecting with his characters, despite strong performances. And it's a language barrier that keeps the audience from emotionally connecting to his characters—who, while gamely portrayed by the actors involved, really have their work cut out for them. Alia Attallah's Leila is a hard shell hiding a broken soul, while boyfriend Rashid (Dominic Rains) is building his own façade—that of a man attempting to escape the constraints of Egyptian male-dominated culture. The third in this threesome, Doug (a very funny Quinn Franzen) is a thoughtless, insecure mess, a catalyst that forces Leila and Rashid to face their darkest fears.
In the space of two hours, El Guindi's bedroom farce takes an 180-degree about-face, changing into a dark, intellectual meditation on sex—what it gives and takes away. Make no mistake; this show is worthy of your time and attention. But there is a cost for the inclusion of so many bickering deep thoughts—it's hard to believe Leila and Rashid love each other enough to have a threesome in the first place. And there's nothing wrong with thinking that, at least in theory, threesomes are supposed to be sexy and fun.