Theater & art

Stage Review

In Apollinaire’s ‘Threesome,’ whose body is it anyway?

Geoff Van Wyck and Alison Meirowitz McCarthy play two of the three characters exploring a variety of issues in “Threesome”

Danielle Fauteux Jacques

Geoff Van Wyck and Alison Meirowitz McCarthy play two of the three characters exploring a variety of issues in “Threesome”

CHELSEA — In “Threesome,” the body is a battlefield. Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi’s domestic drama, onstage at Apollinaire Theatre Company through May 7, aims to be a meditation on intimacy, humiliation, power, and violence — both sexual and geopolitical.

Though the play ultimately gestures at more thematic content than it fully synthesizes, director Danielle Fauteux Jacques and her cast of three skillfully navigate its tonal shifts and fierce topicality.

Advertisement

“Threesome” opens with halting pillow talk, as an Arab-American couple gently dances around a widening emotional gulf. Leila (Alison Meirowitz McCarthy), a writer, refuses to tell her photographer boyfriend Rashid (Mauro Canepa) what her latest book is about — her art is an expression of intimacy, withheld.

They’re about to welcome a relative stranger into bed for a tryst that seems inspired by motivations more sociological than carnal. Even after their guest, Doug (Geoff Van Wyck), makes his entrance wearing naught but socks and sneakers — there is extended nudity in the play — Leila steadfastly insists on explicating the “context” in which she wants to frame the action. She’s experimenting with group sex as a feminist experiment, you see. There’s talk of unrealistic body images fostered by American culture, and the social baggage that often accompanies women’s sexual choices. Rashid protests that “guys get devoured as much as women,” but he clearly doesn’t understand the role of social power in the exercise of sexism.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Canepa is very funny in an understated way, his body language betraying Rashid’s mix of skepticism and outright terror about whatever’s about to happen. When Doug cheerfully speculates about the possibility of some “mano a mano action,” it’s clear that everyone here harbors different expectations. McCarthy inflates Leila’s egghead side, meticulously enunciating each syllable of each word and failing to be emotionally stirred by even her own calls to action. She urges Rashid to experience life more viscerally, but McCarthy makes it clear that Leila is locked inside her own head. Her pro-threesome pitch is revealing: “This is like a thought experiment, in 3-D.”

As Jacques moves her actors around Aryn Colonero’s bedroom set, nearly every change in posture or position seems to amplify the always-shifting emotional dynamics. The actors’ chemistry is commendable.

El Guindi’s interest in politics of the war and peace sort comes to the fore in the play’s second act, set in a photo studio that is dressed in a
tragi-comically inappropriate manner for the cover shoot of Leila’s book. (She accurately calls it an “Orientalist, retro fantasia.”) Hints in the first act are expounded upon as we learn the circumstances of a traumatic incident Leila experienced when she and Rashid traveled to Egypt in 2011 to be part of the
so-called Arab Spring.

Advertisement

The playwright somewhat awkwardly tries to position the couple’s relationship as emblematic of broader trends pertaining to imperialism and cultural exploitation, plus the role of women in different cultures. But Leila and Rashid’s relationship isn’t that compelling absent the thematic import, and much of the arc they’re on is merely described to us, in clunky platitudes — like, “You’re the one who thinks you’re damaged goods. I just want to be with you.” This is particularly disappointing given the playwright’s knack for coining a phrase, shown elsewhere. (“Revenge sex is like an STD of the heart,” Doug remarks pithily.) It’s also hard to miss some creaky plot mechanics, such as how El Guindi unconvincingly ushers Doug offstage for long stretches.

As written, Doug is a fuzzy character, in a way that seems inconsistent rather than complex; Van Wyck is ultimately unable to bring him into sharper focus. Doug’s backstory, crucial to the playwright’s intent, is just incongruent with the character this actor embodies onstage.

As usual, Jacques, who is also Apollinaire’s artistic director, deserves applause for programming a new, topically relevant, somewhat risky play. You may or may not hop into bed with “Threesome,” but it’s the sort of production the Boston theater scene can always use more of.

THREESOME

Play by Yussef El Guindi. Directed by Danielle Fauteux Jacques. Presented by Apollinaire Theatre Company. At Chelsea Theatre Works, through May 7. Tickets: 617-887- 2336, www.apollinairetheatre.com

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.