Three heterosexuals try to have sex together. What could possibly go wrong? Sebastien Scandiuzzi

Threesome Is So Good I Wish I Had a Bat Signal

By Christopher Frizzelle

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When was the last time you left a play going, "Wow, that was really good"? Have you ever left a play feeling that way? Have you ever left a play in Seattle feeling that way? Was it a brand-new play or an old play done well? Chances are, it was an old play done well.

Threesome is a brand-new play, and it's so good I wish I had a Bat Signal just to let as many people as possible know how good it is. Not only do I want the whole city to know, I want the clouds to know. The set, the writing, the acting, the costumes, the well-deployed lack of costumes, the way the show starts out as a comedy and then turns into something else...

It's so good I recommend not reading any more of this piece and just going and seeing it and letting yourself be surprised. Kathleen and Brendan have smart things to say about Threesome, but I swear, it'll be better if you're surprised.

It's so good that during the intermission on opening night, audience members looked a little wild-eyed, like they didn't know what to do, like they weren't expecting this, like they'd never felt this way at a play before. I overheard an older woman, grinning, saying to an older man, "A very different play," and laughing, and the man responding, "VERY different," and the woman, even more wild-eyed than she was a minute ago, saying, "I don't know where it will go."

This is the best state in which to see Threesome—unaware of where it will go. Like I said, just stop reading this and go see it.

As for that "different"/"VERY different" business, I think they were speaking in code about the fact that what they'd just witnessed involved three heterosexual adults trying to have a three-way, and that the story line of act one required one of the performers' penises to be flopping around, in full view, for half an hour straight. At least half an hour. But they had decorum, these theatergoers. I wouldn't be surprised if they were board members. They weren't going to be like, "How 'bout that guy's dick, huh?" Plus, maybe that isn't even what they were talking about. There's so much going on between the characters in Threesome and within each character—the performances are phenomenal—that you hardly notice the penis.

My goal was to get you to go without telling you a single thing that happens. So it can be a surprise. How'd I do? If you'd really, really, really like to know more, read on.


What's More Interesting Than the Floppy Penis Onstage

By Kathleen Richards

Too often, women aren't allowed to have sexual desires. Comedian Amy Schumer makes this point in the current season of Inside Amy Schumer, wondering why, in most Hollywood movies, the man is always raring to go while the woman is like: "Blech! You know I hate your dick." Which is why I appreciated the cast of Threesome—two guys and one woman, as opposed to the typical male fantasy of two women and one guy.

The woman (Leila, a writer from Egypt played by Alia Attallah) is not only a bearer of sexual desire but also a cultural and social critic, a sharp commenter on gender politics, and a survivor of sexual assault—in short, the strongest, most complex character in the play. Instead, it is the men who are uncomfortable, who are objectified, whose bodies are on display (literally—one is naked for a good portion of the play). Leila is powerful, but also vulnerable, which was a revelation. (It's also worth noting that two of the characters are of Middle Eastern descent, while one is white. He is the minority.)

The first act delivers commentary on race, gender, politics, sex, relationships, and body issues in the comedic setup of an awkward threesome. When the newcomer, Doug (Quinn Franzen), worries that he's not "buff" enough for Leila's liking, she asks, bewildered: "What is 'buff'?" And while her boyfriend, Rashid (Karan Oberoi), tries to argue that men are just as susceptible to critique of their bodies as women, Leila shuts him down: "Oh stop. And women are much more forgiving of men's shortcomings, physically."

Franzen's character is the typical well-meaning and culturally tone-deaf white guy, but his comic timing adds much-needed levity to Leila and Rashid's fraught relationship. In the second act, however, he turns out to have more troubling implications as a symbol of the West's complicity in the oppression of Muslim women: He's been tapped to photograph the cover of Leila's soon-to-be-published book and wants to put her in an abaya amid a faux Middle Eastern setting with carpets and cushions.

"One of the things my book is an argument against... is how the West in its own little way, contributes to things sucking for Muslim women by making them seem so very helpless every time they're depicted," Leila chides Doug.

Both men constantly challenge Leila, but she successfully lobs the criticisms right back. And in some instances, she refuses to engage at all. "Don't interrogate me," she says defiantly when Doug questions why she wanted a threesome in the first place. In this play, a woman is allowed to not answer the questions that a man asks.

There are many layers of commentary in Threesome, but some of the most insightful work happens on the subconscious level. Case in point: One man's genitals are on full display in the first half of the play, but more interesting than his floppy (uncut) penis was the discomfort in the audience. There was much giggling and nervous laughter, even during moments when the dialogue wasn't intentionally funny. It made me think about how—and why—we react to nakedness, and how those reactions change when the naked person is a man or a woman.

Leila finally ends up putting on the abaya, which—as the program notes point out—is regarded by some women not as a cloak of oppression but rather as its opposite, because it allows them to not be judged for their bodies. Unfortunately, the final moment of the play counteracts the strong woman-of-color feminist message throughout the rest of it, in what feels like a cop-out from playwright Yussef El Guindi. On the whole, however, it is a white man's body that is judged in Threesome: The characters in the play judge it, and the audience judges it, too. For once, the roles are reversed.


Threesome Is Not What It Appears to Be

By Brendan Kiley

It's fitting that the two male characters in Threesome, Rashid and Doug, are photographers. The woman they spend the play trying to capture and define—in their lenses and in their brief but tempestuous three-way relationship—is Leila, a writer/activist who came to the US with Rashid after things became too dangerous during the Cairo uprising. Leila is working on a book about her experience, but when she and Rashid invite the doofus Doug into their bedroom in a misguided attempt to solve some relationship problems, the situation becomes dangerous in a wholly different way. Over the course of two acts, both Rashid and Doug struggle with Leila over who she should be and how she should present herself to the world—but they're incapable of really seeing the roiling, struggling human being in front of them.

Through a certain squint, Threesome is a bait and switch: The first act is a wry bedroom comedy (the three fumble their way toward a three-way), and the second is a deep dive into the politics of image and domination (Leila shows up for a photo shoot and finds she's expected to wear an abaya and recline on a heap of exotic pillows and carpets).

But the two acts aren't as different as they appear: Playwright Yussef El Guindi's raw materials tend to be the tensions between native-born Americans and immigrants—he has written plays about police interrogations, Hollywood deal-making, and, increasingly, cross-cultural romance—but they're personal without being precious, political without being didactic. By carefully exploring his characters and their oscillating relationships with each other, he provides intense insights into the different worlds they happen to occupy.

The first act opens with Leila and Rashid bantering in bed—the head of which is an ominous concrete slab, their experiences under an authoritarian regime visually looming over their most intimate moments. Soon, the comedy slices at stereotypes, including those of the "clean" white Americans and "dirty" foreigners. Doug, the white American, makes his entrance from the bathroom, already naked and declaring: "Sorry again about the diarrhea. Total buzzkill, I know." Rashid reminds him he should flush the toilet. "Crap," Doug says and rushes out. When he returns, Rashid asks if he's washed his hands. "Crap," Doug says again and rushes out. He returns for a third question about whether he's washed down "there"—you can probably guess his answer. He rushes out again.

As Doug, actor Quinn Franzen masters the clueless-dude character who is full of faux insights into himself and others, but his naïveté becomes sinister in a second-act monologue that wouldn't work nearly so well if Franzen weren't so good at playing dumb. Karan Oberoi is serviceable as the frustrated and mopey Rashid, but Alia Attallah does most of the heavy lifting with a marvelously complex and mercurial performance. Leila is a cipher to the men who have a series of roles they expect her to play: Arab, American, frigid, oversexed, exhibitionist writer, secretive romantic partner.

As scientists who study vision have discovered, the human retina evolved to have two kinds of photoreceptors: rods and cones. Cones give us our high-resolution vision. Rods are more sensitive to light and motion—which is why, if you want to see something in the dark, you shouldn't look at it directly. Look at it tangentially, from the edges of your eyes. What the two photographers in bed with Leila can't understand—and what Attallah shows us through her performance—is that Leila is not one high-resolution image to be observed and anatomized. Sometimes, looking at something directly and thinking you know what you're looking at makes it more difficult to see. recommended