With an eye-catching title like Threesome, Portland Center Stage may have an easy time filling seats for this weekend’s world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s new work (which developed from PCS’s playwrights festival JAW).

But those seeking a fun sex romp be warned: Threesome may open with the awkwardness of a struggling Egyptian-American couple looking to spice things up, but by the second act, humor shifts to intense emotional turbulence as trouble arises with their third partner, a Caucasian male and relative stranger.

“Comedy works best when it butts up against anything repressed,” El Guindi tells Portland Monthly.

In Threesome, themes of repression include sexual assault, cultural gender norms, and independence. These are themes El Guindi knows something about. The Egyptian-American left Egypt when he was four, but returns every year; his characters reflect that country’s turbulent recent history.

“Injustices of one kind or another tend to be the triggers for my plays—even if I can’t initially identify them,” says El Guindi. For Threesome, trigger injustices included the sexual assaults experienced by women (some of them Egyptian-American journalists) during the Egyptian popular revolution of 2011.

“The deep vulnerability that some people experience as they go through life, particularly women, is something that affects me. More than affects, it sucks me into that vulnerability and makes me have to wrestle with it.”

The dynamics at play in Threesome are also informed by Western assumptions about gender dynamics in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“On one level these notions can be harmless, even amusing,” says El Guindi. “On another level, these notions have been used as battle cries to justify wars and invasions.”  

“There is much hypocrisy involved given the West’s own patriarchal impulses that continue to manifest even today,” he adds. “That hypocrisy finds its way into the play.” 

PCS Artistic Director Chris Coleman directs this new production, continuing a creative partnership forged with El Guindi during JAW. According to El Guindi, those two weeks of workshops and staged readings were instrumental.

“Chris was very good in fleshing out my play—letting me see how it operated, its themes and strengths, as well as its flaws, what needed to be done dramaturgically to shore up some of those cracks.”

Wondering about the wisdom of taking a spouse to this world premiere? El Guindi says not to worry: his characters’ attempt at relationship resuscitation isn’t likely to give your partner any extracurricular ideas.

Their strategy, he says, comes off as “probably not advisable...sort of like thinking having a child might save a marriage.”

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