Afterglow: You Can’t Always Get What (the Heart) Wants.
This show starts out highly charged and extremely sexual. They certainly know how to grab our attention, and if you are bothered by male nudity, best stay away from Midnight Theatricals’ Afterglow, currently playing at The Loft at the Davenport Theatre. After the climatic beginning, I couldn’t get the Rolling Stones’ song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want‘ out of my head. This play is an exploration of the modern gay couple flirting with the very topical idea of openness and marriage, and it clearly resonates with the crowd. It’s a thoughful journey we are taken on by writer and director S. Asher Gelman, and for a first time playwright, he clearly understands gay culture and the way twenty and thirty year old New York homosexuals talk and think about their world. Although their are numerous scenarios that feel unnecessary and hard to believe, Gelman with his cast of three very beautiful and talented men who have no problem taking their clothes off time and time again, know how to keep our attention. And not just because of the nudity.
The very appealing gay couple that are in their fifth year together, are Josh, played with a winning mischievious smile by Brandon Haagenson (Theatre Row’s The Vanity) and Alex, played strongly by the appealing Robbie Simpson (Berkshire Theater Festival’s A Class Act). They appear to have it all together, which is a little hard to believe at such a young age. They are married and expecting parents of a surrogate child, while also participating in a completely open relationship. They seem to be fairly communicative with each other and equal and willing co-creators when they bring in a third, the star-struck and cute Darius, played with thoughtful charm by Patrick Reilly (La Mirada’s American Idiot). Not surprisingly things start getting a bit messy when two of them, the more needy and narcissistic actor, Josh and the shy unsure massage therapist, Darius start building a bit more then just a sexual friendship outside of the threesome. Outside contact and sexual interactions are fine, but sleep-overs and love are clearly not allowed.
The dynamic set-up is compelling but a bit too neat and tidy. Alex, the scientist is clearly not as needing of attention and sex as his more selfish, puppy dog husband, Josh. The two utilize the soon to be arriving baby and declarations of love far too often that it starts to feel artificial and forced. I started worrying more about the baby that will soon require far more then either of these two seem capable of giving then any of these young men. Maybe this is the new norm, a mad desire for ‘family’ even when the child inside the gay man is still very present and in need of exploration. This parenting desire is a story that needs to be told, outside of the debate about the open gay marriage. I found this additional plot point more messy and perplexing rather than driving. These two clearly aren’t prepared for fatherhood, and the scientist should know better.
I also felt concerned for Darius, the young slightly quivering gay man who is so desperate for a love like Josh and Alex have that he throws all thoughtful caution to the wind and falls in. Afterglow is basically a PSA to young single gay men to beware of the seductiveness of the immature married gay male who needs ‘more’ but won’t give more in the end. We all know the type, so it is very apparent from the first interaction that Darius needs to walk away, especially after such a clear minded discourse on dating in the modern gay world spoken by Darius early on. That conversation resonates more then most of this cautionary tale. It is unclear why Darius would allow this doomed relationship to proceed, regardless of the seductiveness of the married man. Josh tries to sell the idea of FWB (friends with benefits) to Darius even while also stating that “the heart wants what the heart wants” and “everything is going to be ok”, even when it’s clear it will not. You can’t have it all, Darius, no matter what the manipulative Josh is telling you. And you know it from the get-go. We all know he needs to run, because this game clearly will have no winners.
With a dark, clumsy, but inventive set (I’m sure budgetary restrictions were an issue, although the shower must have cost a pretty penny) designed by Ann Beyersdorfer, creative lighting by Jamie Roderick (The Woodsman), simplistic and exacting costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar (Seven Spots of Sun), and solid sound design by Alex Dietz-Kest (Trial of an American President), everything blends together in order to amplify the intimacy and sexuality of the three young men. They play out their overly long and slightly melodramatic tale that delivers few surprises in story line and character development. Some moments, the catatonic depression of separation and the ‘baby-makes-three’ scenario seem artificial and overly theatrical, when just the basic interpersonal relationships might have been compelling enough. The three actors are impressive though, turning the material into something that feels, moment to moment, honest and heart felt, even as it drags out the romanticism of the doomed pair. There are beautiful bits of transitional movement that had the grace and insight of a ballet, shedding light into the inner conflicts of the characters that only helped enhance our engagement in the three. Regardless, a good solid edit bringing the piece down to a more compact 80 or 90 minute might be the best gift that it can be given. It seems you can’t always get what you want, though, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find, you don’t necessarily get what you need either. No one does in the end, or so this Public Service Announcement is telling us.