The love triangle has been a heady plot driver in theater forever, but in the sordidly sexy, unsatisfying “Afterglow,” writer-director S. Asher Gelman gives the device a decidedly contemporary queer spin, kicking it up a notch or two.
More than a few gay couples will recognize the fraught scenario that plays out in the opening scene. Josh and Alex, in their late 20s and together for five years, have just had a mind-blowing threesome with Darius in their New York City apartment. As they lie on their backs catching their breaths, drenched in sweat, lube, and semen, still buzzed from pot, a delicate dance begins. When to sit up, offer a wipe and a shower? Do they boot the visitor out immediately or offer him coffee?
Darius, 25, is buck naked, and the couple wears nothing but their shiny wedding rings. But make no mistake, the extended full nudity — and believe me, the trio is exceptionally easy on the eyes — is no mere gimmick. It effectively adds to the authenticity of the story and, at key moments, underscores each man’s vulnerability. Not to mention the potential for surprise (during the performance I attended, a rogue erection appeared at an inopportune moment).
When Alex exits to shower, Josh is all over Darius and insists they get together, just the two of them, since he and his hubby have a wide open relationship. Although Alex repeatedly claims he has no problem with it — their only rule is “no sleepovers” — the audience knows that will change soon enough.
And so for the duration of the drama, the awkward dance continues, with a reluctant Darius taking on the dubious role of Josh’s extramarital boyfriend. Is Darius stealing Josh from his husband, or is it simply sharing? The fact that the partners are expecting a baby via surrogacy in a few months only raises the stakes higher.
This is Gelman’s first effort as a playwright and it shows. Although the plot is compelling, the occasionally insightful dialogue can turn wooden or preachy. Darius, a massage therapist tired of being single, pontificates about guys unwilling to compromise now that technology brings potential mates “literally at your fingertips” and how we’re all “paralyzed by the illusion of choice.” “Afterglow” flirts with melodrama throughout and fully gives into it at its climax.
There are other glitches. The two hours and 15 minutes running time could easily be trimmed — the multiple arguments and trysts become repetitive — and the scene transitions, where the actors must lug and reassemble chunks of scenery, could be choreographed a little more tightly.
The actors do a solid job tackling demanding roles. The model-handsome Brandon Haagenson mines unexpected tenderness in the selfish, grab-the-gusto Josh, a theater director under the pressure of a looming opening night. Patrick Reilly is utterly convincing as the lonely Darius, who, against his better judgment about getting involved with men who are emotionally unavailable, lets himself fall hard for the alluring Josh. Robbie Simpson’s Alex, a promising chemist with a heavy workload, is adept at walking the fine line between supportive husband and aggrieved victim.
Gelman’s dynamic staging helps mask the script’s limitations. The intimate Loft space at the Davenport Theatre has been configured with the playing area in the center, flanked by raked seating. Upon entering, half the audience must pass through what appears to be a bedroom, careful not to step on clothes strewn on the floor. A large cube formed out of white sheets dominates the stage, later morphing into a bed, then a spa, and sometimes, amazingly, into a fully functioning shower. Kudos to Ann Beyersdorfer for the scenery, Jamie Roderick for the lighting, and Alex Dietz-Kest for the sound design.
Flaws aside, if the goal was to shine a brief light on the potential joys and pitfalls of queer polyamory, the overly ambitious “Afterglow” succeeds as it titillates.
AFTERGLOW | Midnight Theatricals | The Loft at the Davenport Theatre, 354 W. 45th St. | Through Aug. 5: Mon-Wed. at 7:30 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m. | $64.50-$84.50 at telecharge.com | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission