Chicago Theatre Review
A Second Act Shocker
Threesome – The Other Theatre Company
What begins with a frank, but very funny first act, evolves into a riveting, dramatic second act that flips backward into a story about the horrific treatment of women, especially in the Muslim culture. As the lights rise, a young Asian-American couple are lying in bed, puffing on e-cigarettes and discussing a number of thoughts. Leila is a writer and about to have her book published. It’s a tone that’s so personal she hasn’t even let Rashid, her live-in boyfriend read it. Although he’s a photographer who may possibly be hired to design the book jacket, Rashid’s girlfriend been quite evasive concerning what her book is about.
There’s some additional tension in the air. Clearly this couple, who’ve been living together for some time, are anticipating something else besides the release of Leila’s book. It turns out that they’re anticipating a third party for a three-way, something new and exciting that will spice up their personal relationship. Both are understandably nervous, although it was Leila’s idea to invite another man to their bed. Soon we become aware that their guest is nearby in the ensuite bathroom. Suddenly the door bursts open and a handsome, unselfconscious, very naked Doug appears, all ready for action.
Doug is another photographer who works at the same publishing house as Leila and Rashid. He’s also a bit nervous about this threesome, but his anxiety is displayed via his rapid-fire, unfiltered stream of conscious babbling. He’s also just experienced some disturbing digestive problems, which was the reason he’d been holed up in the restroom for so long.
But this isn’t the beginning of the hot sexual encounter everyone expects, including the audience. Leila insists on discussing her motivation for throwing this little party. She explains that she wants to look at this kind of encounter ethically and to examine it as a form of female independence. Men, she counters, enjoy far more sexual freedom than women. There’s a difference in the way men and women are treated in every culture, she states, especially in Muslim nations. Soon we discover exactly what Leila means.
Freelance director Jason Gerace guides this production of Yussef El Guindi’s three-handed seesaw of a play. An Egyptian-born playwright, he writes about a culture he knows well. As the play teeters upward during act I, El Guindi’s play sparkles and bristles with saucy adult comedy. The humor slightly gives way when the playwright decides to discuss everyone’s hangups, but then the laughter returns again. That is, until the last few minutes of the scene. We end the act on a serious note that foreshadows the humorless drama that will permeate the second half of the play.
The teeter-totter moves downward and act II shifts to Doug’s photography studio, with Leila getting ready to pose for him. The scene looks like a harem tent, draped in kitschy decor and sports a bed draped with Oriental rugs and pillows. At the center of the room stands a mannequin bedecked in an Egyptian woman’s enshrouding abaya.
Suddenly a drunken Rashid bursts into the room, ordering Doug to leave so he can talk to Leila in private. He’s read the manuscript of Leila’s book and has learned some shocking information about his girlfriend. It seems that, unknown to him, while visiting Egypt during the Arab Spring, Leila suffered a series of traumatic experiences. These events are reflected in the young woman’s book, outlining her current views of the conflicting freedoms existing for men and women.
This play is interesting. It’s exquisitely directed by Jason Gerace and performed with intelligence and passion by Suzan Faycurry, as Leila, Demetrios Troy, as Rashid, and, particularly, Mike Tepeli, as Doug, the guy caught in the middle. Yussef El Guindi’s script is the problem. The dramatic progression isn’t balanced. We don’t quite understand how he arrived at that dramatic final curtain after so comedic a first act. Each half is like two separate plays. Most audiences probably would enjoy the entire production being about a couple attempting to spice up their relationship in some way. Instead, the second act plays a lot like Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, “Disgraced.” The only thing is, this two-act play shocks the theatergoer with its sudden change of heart. The audience simply isn’t prepared for the emotional tragedy that will follow.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 23-May 21 by The Other Theatre Company at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-404-7336 or by going to www.theothertheatrecompany.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.