Writer: S Asher Gelman
Director: Tom O’Brien
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
With this year’s Olivier-Award winner, Mathew Lopez’ The Inheritance, having followed quickly on the heels of successful revivals of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, London has not, in recent times, been short of dramas that chronicle the lives of gay men in America. The trend continues with Afterglow, a 90-minute play by S Asher Gelman that has already been a hit off-Broadway.
Considered together, these plays reveal a fascinating track that runs from the guilt and uncertainty of the ‘60s, through the AIDS-stricken ‘80s and onto the confidence of the modern day, brought about partly by legal recognition of same sex relationships. Yet each era has brought its own problems and Afterglow puts the focus on an age-old predicament – the tussle between monogamy and promiscuity. An “eternal triangle” lies at the play’s heart, indicating that straight and gay relationships could now be fully aligned.
Josh and Alex are a New York thirty-something married couple, both with successful careers, who are preparing tor parenthood. They have what they describe as an open relationship and the play begins with them having invited the younger Darius to share their bed. “Love is easy, relationships are work” Josh asserts and the play explores how what is meant to be a casual encounter grows and undermines the foundations of seemingly stable lives.
Gelman’s writing fuses heartfelt emotion with acerbic wit and there is hardly a hint of outdated gay stereotyping. The open thrust stage is three-quarters filled by a king-size bed, the components of which part and re-converge for swift scene-changes, perhaps mirroring the shifting relationships in the play.
At the beginning, there comes a string of scenes that revolve around sexual encounters and, although virtually no one is going to be shocked by them any more, they generate a coldness that defies their steamy nature and detaches the characters from the audience. However, the triumphs of director Tom O’Brien’s pacy production come when, gradually, the trio’s inner selves are revealed.
Sean Hart’s Josh has a restless air. He is an attention-seeker, described as like a puppy dog, and one “owner“ may not be able to give him all the love that he needs. Danny Mahoney’s Alex is steadier, but he is a workaholic who has difficulty in satisfying Josh’s demands and he sees no harm in agreeing to his husband having one-on-one meetings with Darius. Jesse Fox’s Darius begins as a carefree, playful youth who revels in having a wide choice of sex partners, but then comes to tire of being the “other” man and craves to be part of something more meaningful.
When the open relationships become infiltrated by doubts and deceptions, a path is laid along which all three protagonists are to find themselves trapped, albeit for different reasons, and the stark inevitability that one or more of them will get hurt becomes clear. Afterglow is a provocative, soul-baring piece that throws a piercing light on relationships that are very much of today.
Runs until 20 July 2019 | Image: Darren Bell