Theater Review: AFTERGLOW (Pride Films and Plays)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 1, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


“The heart wants what the heart wants.” Emily Dickinson’s seemingly simple saying (akin to Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose”) in fact packs a lot of wary resignation into a vote of confidence. So does the 2017 off-Broadway hit Afterglow, 80 minutes of theatrical “comfort food” that looks cloyingly familiar but feels surprisingly fresh.

A cautionary tale about how open to change three gay lovers can get, this credible chronicle delivers the most wrenching conflict a stage can show — not virtue against vice but good intentions against non-negotiable need. Now in a stirring Chicago premiere staged by Pride Arts Center’s executive director David Zak, this revealing drama — with lots of earned nudity and physical intimacy — focuses on thirtysomething lovers Alex and Josh. Driven Gothamites, Alex (Jacob Barnes) is a chemical researcher and student, Josh (Rich Holton) a theater director.

They’re about to test their trust and loyalty to the breaking point.

If too many gay plays obsess over “commitment phobia,” this one does not: Well beyond benefits, these friends are contemplating enlarging their happy home: A surrogate baby will seal their deal. But more than parenthood beckons them. Connubial bliss mustn’t mean ending erotic adventures.

Anyway, for Alex and Josh the opposites that once attracted have become differences that define. Needing more attention than Alex can offer, Josh complains, “You what space. I want passion.”

Perhaps a third party can heal the rift. Both thrilled and paralyzed by all the possibilities of sex in the city (which could also be “the illusion of choice”), the guys propose a second way, besides adoption, to expand their emotions. They’ll open their marriage to the possibility of a ménage à trois if not a thruple.

The perfect candidate is their enthusiastic 25-year-old masseur Darius (Jesse James Montoya), an Oregon émigré by way of New Jersey. He takes a shower. They take him in, so to speak.

If “love is easy—relationships are work,” they get a crash course in getting what you want: Inevitably, this polyandrous situation triggers the fear of being the “third wheel” or “odd man out” and the guilt of being the “in” one. Not to mention the “green-eyed monster” that too easily assumes a complex lover can be replaced by a one-night-stand (or ten). When infatuated Darius (who proclaims “I could borrow you forever”) becomes a literal rent boy, a lot of roses suddenly lose their bloom.

Playwright S. Asher Gelman delivers unforced honesty in his terse depiction of the dangers of overthinking adoration, as well as the perils of a half-hearted renunciation. Barnes, Holton, and Montoya expose, exploit and enlarge those discoveries, at time pushing the envelope but more often keeping the raw real and the hurt human.

Afterglow shines because, well, “the play wants what the play wants.”

photos by Heather Mall

Pride Films and Plays
Buena Theatre @ Pride Arts Center, 4147 N Broadway
Wed-Sat at 8; Sun at 4
ends on May 5, 2019 EXTENDED to July 28, 2019
for tickets, call 773.857.0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays

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