Afterglow

  • Drama
  • By S. Asher Gelman
  • Director: S. Asher Gelman
  • Cast: Brandon Haagenson, Patrick Reilly, Robbie Simpson 
  • The Davenport Theatre, New York
  • Until 17 August 2017
  • Review by Ann Pryor
  • 14 August 2017
Afterglow
4.0Reviewer's Rating

At an intimate theatre, guests are beckoned to their seats right across a stage strewn with sneakers and clothes, around a raised platform hidden on four sides by a sheet. The lights go down, the sheets come down, and voila! There are three beautiful, completely naked men, exhilarated in the afterglow of a menage-a-trois. Their gorgeous bodies are eye-popping, to say the least! For this New Yorker, it was a pleasant shock – and then, hey, there are three naked guys. 

As they don their clothes, their emotions come out into the open, a reveal in reverse. Blonde, vibrant Josh and beefy, brooding Alex are married and planning to adopt a child, but have agreed to an open relationship; Darius, adorable, vulnerable and sexy, has joined the couple for some fun. But monogamy, friendship, and sex make this sweet set-up complicated. Almost immediately, the no-strings arrangement becomes a knotty tangle of bargaining and deceit.

Josh and Darius also broach the concept of monogamy, how it looks from the inside and the outside. Josh offers an explication of “the heart wants what it wants”, the irrationality of love and passion.  Their growing closeness puts an obvious strain on an already tense and fraught relationship. As Alex and Josh get closer to the adoption of their child, they are clearly growing apart. Josh is still young and impulsive, Alex clearly more mature and responsible. Alex makes it clear he’s uncomfortable with all the time his husband and Darius are spending together, away from him. This is what they both had wanted – a fling – but after the sweetness it’s turned sour. When Josh agrees to pay for Darius’s rent, without Alex’s consent, he deepens the intimacy between them but at the expense of his marriage. When the betrayal comes out in the open, he and Alex opt to remain together, but why?

The play looks honestly at gay intimacy, and asks if a committed marriage truly be open. Can friendship remain once sex enters the picture? Is the security of a relationship compromised when a partner continues to search outside the partnership? Is a love triangle innately dysfunctional and unsustainable? As the afterglow fades quickly, the triangle begins to wreak psychological damage, all three in despair.

As Darius, the conscience and pivot point of the play declares, “With all the options out there we are paralyzed by the illusion of choice.” New York City represents the pinnacle of sexual possibility. If the heart wants what it wants, are honesty and monogamy even possible? How can you be sure what another truly believes, even as they profess integrity and faithfulness?  Gelman asks the big question: What is love, anyway? 

Brandon Haagenson, as the vibrant, effervescent Josh, looks like a young Jude Law. Patrick Reilly as Darius is flawless, his character articulating the complexities of gay culture without descending into caricature. Robbie Simpson, as the more mature partner in the marriage, is a standout.  

Scene designer Ann Beyersdorfer deserves her own star for creative set design; bed, shower, apartment, massage table, all are created and dismantled by the players on the small stage with just a few moveable and rearranged pieces. There’s also a magical rooftop sequence where the space is full of night stars. 

I took off a star for the play’s last sequences, which drew out uncomfortably with long pauses of moody silence and brings the play’s brilliant momentum to a grinding halt. While the end of a relationship does inevitably come with increasingly longer stretches of nothing good to say, innovative Gelman could cinch up the timing here. The grey set perfectly captures the grim bleakness as the triangle collapses. 

Comment

Your email address will not be published.