Being honest, an open relationship wouldn’t work for me. However, I have friends who have the ability to keep sex and their relationship separate and really enjoy both. Whilst I agree that is fine in theory, for me, that separation would not be that easy and emotions always become involved somehow. In many respects, this is the issue that is at the heart of S. Asher Gelman’s play Afterglow at the Southwark Playhouse.
Josh (Sean Hart) and his husband Alex (Danny Mahoney) are enjoying life. They live in a nice apartment in New York, have jobs they both, on the whole, enjoy and are having a baby together. Sexually, they have an open relationship with only one rule – no overnighters – and are happy to play together or separately. When we first meet them, they are having a passionate threesome with twenty-something masseur Darius (Jessie Fox), an event that all three of them really enjoy. In fact, Josh enjoys things so much that, after explaining how his and Alex’s relationship works, he arranges to hook up with Darius the next day for a spot of one-on-one time. After all, it’s only a bit of fun and all three boys know where they stand. What could possibly go wrong?
You know how sometimes, you can buy something because it looks really great but then when you open the packet, you are disappointed by the contents inside? Well, that was my feeling after seeing Afterglow. Gelman states that the play is based on an extramarital affair he had previously had. Unfortunately, for me, that event did not translate well into the story. I found it hard to like the characters and, frankly, loathed Josh fairly early on. Whilst I’m sure his words resonated with many in the audience, I personally found it hard to feel sorry when the young, attractive and very fit Darius was complaining that there was just too much sex available to enable him to get a relationship. Having said that, by the end, I had changed my opinion slightly of Darius and could identify with his plight. Of the three, Alex was the most likeable. He was focussed, sensible, and understood the concept that love is easy, relationships are the hard bit. I liked his approach to sex. Have a fantastic and abandoned time, then once it was over, get the bedding changed, the room cleaned and back to normal life. The problem was that I didn’t really get why he and Josh were together. A feeling reinforced after Alex’s talk with Darius about Josh’s personality flaws. There are some amusing moments in the story but, and this is especially true in the Woody Allen moment, they don’t always work and feel like the writer is trying too hard to get a chuckle out of the audience.
So, the writing didn’t work for me, what of the production itself. I was really impressed with Libby Todd’s very flexible use of the thrust stage to set the play. When the play first opens, the stage is dominated by a large bed that is the setting for the initial action. However, the bed is flexible and with a few swift movements can be used to create everything from rooftop balcony to the small apartment where Darius lives and works as a professional masseur.
The three actors, under Director Tom O’Brien, are extremely good. As is the contemporary norm, being a play about gay men, they are all devastatingly handsome and work out daily, but they are also extremely good at bringing the three characters to life. Whilst I am not an expert on American accents, they all sounded authentic and the accents didn’t wander all over the place as sometimes occurs. Both Jessie Fox and Danny Mahoney felt very authentic as Darius and Alex respectively and Sean Hart should definitely be complimented for making Josh so believable and easy for me to dislike.
Afterglow is one of those plays that promises a lot but, for me at least, failed to deliver fully. Whilst the production itself is really good, with three highly talented actors giving it their all – literally – the writing falls down in so many places. I knew the ending at the start, there were no surprises on the way and by the end, I had really lost interest in the three characters and their lives. I was so looking forward to seeing this show but, despite the best efforts of all involved, I left the theatre feeling a bit let down.
Review by Terry Eastham
Josh and Alex, a married couple in an open relationship, invite Darius to share their bed one night. When a new intimate connection begins to form, all three men must come head to head with one another’s notions of love, intimacy, and commitment.
Premiering in the UK after a multiple-extended hit run Off-Broadway, where it sold more than 23,000 seats in a tiny 69-seat theatre and grossed over $1million, Afterglow is a “steamy stripped-down look at gay intimacy’ (Huffington Post) coming to Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited seven-week season.
The cast features Jesse Fox (Hard Feelings, Finborough) as Darius, Sean Hart (Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus, RSC) as Josh and Danny Mahoney (White Fang, Park Theatre) as Alex.
Directed by Tom O’Brien
Set and Costume Designer Libby Todd
Lighting Designer David Howe
Sound Designer David Gregory
Movement Director Lee Crowley
Casting Director Anne Vosser
General Management David Adkin Limited
Produced by Adam Roebuck, Aaron Quintana and Justin Coffman.
by S. Asher Gelman
directed by Tom O’Brien
77-85 Newington Causeway
London, SE1 6B
Wednesday 5 June to Saturday 20 July 2019