The play Threesome is an ambitious work, taking aim at the ease with which we become stuck in patterns of bad behavior like possessiveness in relationships. It also reaches into threats to women's freedom in other cultures.
As the lights come up we meet a married couple already in bed, who have embarked on a venture both risqué and risky: a man has been invited to join them for a tryst, at the behest of the wife, Leila (Suzan Faycurry).
The two are modestly dressed, considering this is a three-way. Presentiments of a drawing room comedy? Perhaps it's a commentary on social mores leading couples to extremes, even when not a good fit.
It’s the first time for the couple, an Egyptian-American pair. Husband Rashid (Demetrios Troy) was likely ready to jump into this moment without reserve, but guest Doug (Mike Tepeli) has been overlong and rather noisy in his preparations in the bathroom. This interlude gives Rashid too much time for second and third thoughts. Leila is compelled to combat his misgivings, but does not assuage his fears. The tryst is more about settling their own martial scores, it seems, than about the sex.
The myriad tensions found in any domestic relationship arise, and conflicts surface. Debates about whether men or women feel greater pressure on body image, and who has the short end of the stick in social expectations - the usual stuff.
But there is a hint of something more, here – the couple are both from Cairo, and were actively engaged in the political and social struggles released in that country by the Arab Spring. Leila's memoir covering that time is about to be published - but she has pointedly not let Rashid read it. He accuses her of mistrust over this, and over his innocent flirtation with another woman. Leila counters that his occupation, photographer, sets him up as an observer rather than a full participant in life – and so on.
The tension pulls back as Doug bursts in, bubbling with excitement, which further unnerves Rashid. Fated to be the odd man out, Doug drives the comedic interlude that follows, and again we feel headed for lighter fare. But Doug’s joy fades as, unnerved that the two have withdrawn from the bed, he realizes he has stepped into the middle of a spat. Tepeli plays Doug with nuance and flair, especially challenging since he is in the nude for the first 15 minutes or so.
We find Doug also has some baggage, and the unhappy couple conjures neuroses from his teen years. All this intimacy puts a damper on sex; the downside of Rashid and Leila’s marriage is on display. We also find that Doug, a photographer, has won the photo assignment that Rashid had been seeking: the cover of Leila’s book. An angry departure scene follows as the lights go down on Act I.
In Act II we are at Doug’s studio, where he is readying a set for the photo shoot. More drama follows as Doug and Leila work out the tension from the previous encounter. Then enters a drunken Rashid, and things continue downhill. Somewhere between the script and the performance, Faycurry's Leila is appropriately cerebral, but her dialog is unnaturally literary and unemotional. Troy's Rashid brings emotional range, and he has more luck with delivering the script. During his drunken diatrib, however, the lines require an unlikely sobriety.
As the audience learns director Jason Gerace had a complicated scenario to present, and he manages to keep our interest on the script by Yussef El Guindi. But attention to the plight of Leila challenges loses out when mixed with so many other stories and issues within this story.
It's not often you see the words erotic and Dachau in the same sentence. Bent by Martin Sherman is one of the few literary works to address homosexuality and the Nazis. Under the direction of Keira Fromm, The Other Theatre Company presents this Pulitzer Prize nominated play as part of their freshman season.
Bent calls to mind many of the same themes and issues raised by Christopher Isherwood in his novel The Berlin Stories, later to inspire the musical Cabaret. What makes these stories so fascinating is the alternative narrative to the well-known story of Hitler's persecution of Jews. What many don't know is that the Nazi regime persecuted gays, gypsies, the handicapped or anyone who was different. Also, that non-Jewish Germans simply went along with the darkening tide, terrified or unaware of its ultimate goal: ethnic cleansing.
Sherman set out to write a play that mirrored his own time, a closeted late 1970s on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic. While there are some glaring historical inaccuracies in this play - he makes his point. Philandering Max (Nik Kourtis) lives both and in and out of the closet as it suits him, until he finds himself imprisoned at Dachau for "perversion." While en route, he befriends fellow "queer" Horst (Alex Weisman) who helps him stay alive. Over the course of their internment at Dachau the two become lovers in uniquely staged sexual encounters.
While the play is quite faithful to its source material, the direction could have been stronger. Weisman is quite sure of himself and turns in a top notch performance as tragic Horst. Kourtis on the other hand stumbles through the emotional peaks and valleys of his anti-heroic character. By now, there are countless literary interpretations of the Holocaust and what this particular production misses is the bewilderment victims of concentration camps must have felt. These characters never seem to step back and address the atrocity and disbelief of the exaggerated instances of cruelty in the script. They're prematurely numb to the horrors of camp life and in the end, the inherent sense fear doesn't translate to the audience in the way many other Holocaust dramas have succeeded. The underlying themes get a little mixed up and you're never sure exactly what The Other Theatre Company would like you to take away.
Through July 26th at The Other Theatre Company. 3829 North Broadway. (773)528-9696