Monday, June 26, 2017

AFTERGLOW: An Open Marriage Is Put To The Test

Alex and Josh – two men together for five years, married, expecting a child through surrogacy – are so secure in their relationship that they are certain they are perfect candidates for an open marriage. They’re young and horny, so no reason to give up their vibrant and varied sex lives as long as they are completely honest with each other and with their extramarital partners. As Alex explains, “we have one rule. No sleepovers.” 

That's the premise of S. Asher Gelman's new play, Afterglow, now at The Loft at Off Broadway's Davenport Theatre.  

What could possibly go wrong?  

AFTERGLOW - Production photos by Mati Gelman

Much, as it turns out. Neither the best laid plans nor the best planned lays of men works out exactly as they imagine they will.  

Truly, if you were to do a little gender switching, you'd see that things unfold as they often do with heterosexual couples who dabble in affairs, open or on the sly.  Because, you know  gay, straight, bi, monogamous, polyamorous – there is always another body organ that comes into play, one that lies outside the groin area. As Josh is so fond of quoting Emily Dickinson: "The heart wants what it wants."  With two, that heart thing is tough enough; add a third party, and complications are bound to arise.  

As the play opens, Alex (Robbie Simpson) and Josh (Brandon Haagenson) are lying in bed, entwined with each other and with Darius (Patrick Reilly), who has joined them for a threesome. 

Much of Act I deals with the trio's no-strings-attached sexual fun and games. (Just to get the point out of the way, there is lots of nudity and sexual situations throughout the production).  But in Act II, things grow more serious as Josh and Darius start spending more and more time together, until they gradually cross the unspoken-but-always-present line of demarcation that starts with anonymous sex and evolves into friendship, genuine affection, and love.  

Will Alex and Josh's marriage survive? And what of Darius, who is younger by a few years (he's about 25, unattached, and rather insecure and vulnerable; the other two are edging close to 30, and, of course, have been a couple for some time). 

You could argue that all three know what they are getting into, thanks to the frankness of the "open marriage" arrangement. But knowing in your head is not the same as knowing in your heart. Life is messy, and love and affection are not the only emotions involved; there are also jealousy, mistrust, and feelings of betrayal that need to be factored into the mix.  

Afterglow hearkens back to a long string of works about extramarital relationships and the third party (usually, "the other woman"). There is a certain amount of narcissism and self-deception that floats about, and all three of the characters are most definitely playing with fire when they use the guise of openness to justify their behavior.

Still, the playwright, who also directs, has painted no obvious villains here, just, perhaps, a portrait of immaturity and poor judgment. If we feel for anyone, it is the unborn baby who is soon to need Alex and Josh's undivided attention. What kind of parents will these two self-absorbed individuals be? 

The production benefits from Ann Beyersdorfer's cleverly constructed set, which includes in its design a working onstage shower. And if you care about such things, the frequent nude scenes are intensified by the intimacy of the small theater space. But the play, a first for Mr. Gelman, does not necessarily add to our growing understanding about gay relationships, except to point out how they are not necessarily any different from heterosexual ones.  

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  

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