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Review: Live Naked Boys, and a Modern Marriage, in ‘Afterglow’


Brandon Haagenson and Patrick Reilly in “Afterglow.” The play revels in nudity.

Mati Bardosh Gelman

When someone says “I love you” for the first time, it usually marks a hopeful beginning. For Darius and Josh, it’s a harbinger of doom. The men have been friends with benefits for a little while, until Josh blurts out those three little words and changes everything — because he is married to someone else.

The twist in S. Asher Gelman’s new play, “Afterglow,” is that Josh’s husband is in on the affair. Indeed, the show begins with the sounds of a three-way simultaneous orgasm. Never mind the feat of synchronization; rather, we are meant to admire how casual the participants are about the situation. The husbands Josh (Brandon Haagenson) and Alex (Robbie Simpson) are proudly polyamorous, and Darius (Patrick Reilly) is only the latest guest to grace their bed. (The frequent nudity is so willfully carefree that it ends up looking forced.)

This time, however, the arrangement goes awry when Josh and Darius develop a bond more dangerous than sex, and a twosome cleaves out of the threesome.


From left, Robbie Simpson, Patrick Reilly and Brandon Haagenson.

Mati Bardosh Gelman

Mr. Gelman, who also directed, has said he based the play on his own experience opening up his marriage. But that doesn’t mean he presents the couple in a flattering light. Josh and Alex are smug masters of offhand bragging: about their oh-so-modern arrangement, about their busy Manhattan lives (Josh is a theater director, Alex a graduate student in chemistry), about the baby they’re expecting with a surrogate. In contrast, Darius feels inadequate and alone in the big city. “With all of the options out there, we’re kind of paralyzed by the illusion of choice,” he tells Josh. In one of Mr. Gelman’s many heavy-handed moves, Darius is a massage therapist yearning for an emotional touch.

Gay lives have changed, and plays depicting them have moved beyond coming-out stories and tragedies of loathing, self- and otherwise. But gay domesticity is turning out to be tough to dramatize, as evidenced by such flawed shows as Peter Parnell’s tale of fatherhood and infidelity, “Dada Woof Papa Hot,” and Mark Gerrard’s “Steve,” infused by a sense of impending mortality.

The soap-operatic “Afterglow” doesn’t even reach their level, although it has filled enough seats to extend its run. And it has funny moments, albeit of the inadvertent kind. When Darius announces he may move back home, Josh is so distraught that you expect his boyfriend to be doomed to exile in, say, Idaho; it turns out Darius hails from exotic Jersey City. Similarly, much is made of Darius’s youth, but Josh is only about five years older.

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