Two things stand out starkly in Afterglow. First, that is a lot of naked male flesh up there having a really good time. Second, and this knowledge grows on you more slowly, there is amazing acting happening on stage.
Afterglow is the first play by writer / director S. Asher Gelman. It is the story of Josh and Alex, a married gay couple who are about 6 months away from having their first child. Josh and Alex have an open relationship. That is, Josh and Alex are allowed to have sex with other men, either together or separately, with only two rules. They must be honest and they can’t spend the night with a tryst, they have to come home before morning. Josh, played by Brandon Haagenson, is a dynamic 30-year-old theater professional. Alex, played by Robbie Simpson, is an equally handsome Chemistry post-grad student. They live in New York with plenty of money.
|Brandon Haagenson, Patrick Riley (photo: Mati Gelman)|
Afterglow opens immediately after a sexual encounter with a younger man, Darius, played by Patrick Reilly. In the afterglow of their tryst, charming banter, flirting and plans flow between the guys. Darius and Josh seem to hit if off exceptionally well, which Alex is accommodating of.
The rest of Afterglow proceeds on an expected path of growing affection between Darius and Josh, a growing feeling of alienation from Alex and a rocky ending for all. Afterglow comes complete with the occasional shower, plenty of witty banter, serious discussions, laughs and sex along the way. It sounds trite, but this cast brings a real sense of honesty and emotion to the proceedings. You can fully feel the growing bonds between all three of these men. And those slowly growing emotions make the audience have a real stake in what happens later in the show.
|Reilly, Haagensen & Robbie Simpson (photo: Mati Gelman)|
The copious nudity in the show also has a purpose, both metaphorical and factually. In the first few moments, the audience is hyper aware of their nudity. All three actors walk around nude quite a bit. Metaphorically, their emotional guards are down when they are unclothed. Adding clothes, the stereotypical gay outfits are used as shorthand to add a layer of detachment. Factually, the sheer amount of nudity early takes the titillation out of the images. We see these men and their emotions, not their body parts.
Having lavished praise on the show, let me call some attention to the drawbacks. First, Afterglow is rather traditionally moral. Monogamy may not work, by polyamory is not an answer – it will lead to problems for everyone involved and it’s often the result of a lopsided power relationship in a monogamous relationship. That may or may not be true, but it is presented as the way of the world here, and therefore the outcome is preordained.
Second, that is a lot of handsome, Caucasian flesh on stage. The actors reinforce that this “problem” - too many people to love, plenty of money and too many good-looking people to have sex with - is a bit more upper middle class whining than actual hardship.
I think some people may also have an issue with the length of Afterglow, it is a bit longer than two hours. I did not find it too long. I found the time excellently used to slowly build connections and honesty. This is writer / director Gelman’s first play, and I was extremely impressed by the work done here by everyone. A special shout out has to go to Scenic Designer Ann Beyersdorfer who did a truly spectacular job with the space. Afterglow is a bittersweet love story that will touch you.
Afterglow | Playwright & Director: S. Asher Gelman | Cast: Brandon Haagenson, Patrick Reilly, Robbie Simpson | link
|Brandon Haagensen and Patrick Reilly (photo: Mati Gelman)|