Seattle playwright Yussef El Guindi’s new play, “Threesome,” blends sex, humor and politics when portraying a ménage à trois.

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Seattle playwright Yussef El Guindi’s “Threesome” began with a vivid image.

“It started with two people talking in bed,” said the author of the play, which begins previews on Friday, June 5, at ACT Theatre. (All tickets are $20 for the run.)

“I wondered, who are these people? I didn’t know, so I filed it away.”

Theater preview

‘Threesome’

By Yussef El Guindi. Previews begin June 5, opens June 11 and plays through June 28, ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $20 (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

Humanities Washington is hosting “Unveiled: Feminism, Orientalism, and Perceptions of the Middle East,” a forum with El Guindi and others. 7 p.m. June 8, Naked City, 8564 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle (humanities.org/programs/think-drink).

Months later, thumbing through old files at his Seattle home, El Guindi ran across that idea. A light clicked on. “I thought, I know who these people are now. They’re waiting for someone to join them in bed.”

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This past winter, two years after that scene first popped into his head, “Threesome” premiered in Oregon, in an ACT coproduction with Portland Center Stage (PCS). After the Seattle engagement, the show moves to an Off Broadway run at 59E59 Theaters.

In part a ménage à trois bedroom comedy (with nudity), “Threesome” also seriously examines gender and cultural issues in the U.S. and Middle East, and an Egyptian-American woman writer’s struggle to recover her sexual autonomy.

The play’s recent staging at PCS by artistic head Chris Coleman (who’s also directing the ACT version) was well-received. The Oregonian praised it as “an intelligent, smart, self-perceptive play.” The Portland Mercury called it a treatise where “sex, international politics and feminism intersect.”

One expects such an ambitious agenda from the Egyptian-born, longtime local resident El Guindi, who is as unassuming as he is industrious. He came to national attention in 2005, with Theater Schmeater’s debut of his provocative one-act “Back of the Throat,” about a Muslim-American writer suspected of terrorism.

Since then, he’s won major playwriting awards for other tales pondering Arab Americans in our diverse society, including the melting-pot romance “Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World” (which premiered at ACT in 2011).

El Guindi says he learned a lot watching “Threesome” performed in an early draft at PCS’ JAW festival of new works. “One of the actors offered to come onstage naked, as in the script. He didn’t have to for a workshop, but thank God he did, because I saw how that affected the lines I’d written and audience reaction.”

The response? “Oh my God, I thought, they’re laughing too much! Then we got to the much more serious second act. I worried, will they take this journey with me? Chris had a lot more faith than I did.”

After revisions to make the script more cohesive, Act 1 is still comedic, but it’s “more intellectual than risqué. It’s explicit but not profane. These are three brainy people,” he says of the characters — the writer Leila (played by Alia Attallah), her Arab-American boyfriend Rashid (Karan Oberoi) and Doug (Quinn Franzen), the stranger invited into their bed.

El Guindi brushed off the notion that a man can’t, or shouldn’t, write about female sexuality. “What right do I have? Well, I have an imagination. And I come from a family of strong women. We create these borders where we don’t need borders. I think [men and women] know each other a lot better than we think we do.”

The playwright recently had a residency at University of California, Santa Barbara to work on a new black comedy, “The Talented Ones,” about the dashed dreams of an immigrant couple who first meet at their American-naturalization ceremony. He’s also drafting, for ACT, a version of the Japanese epic “The Tale of Heike,” cowritten by Philip Kan Gotanda.

With his fertile imagination and global perspective, El Guindi is rarely stumped for ideas. “I just find us as a species endlessly fascinating. I just want to be truthful to my characters, and hew to their reality. Can I be engaging, entertaining and still plumb the depths of something? That’s the pleasure of writing for me.”