THE BASICS: AFTERGLOW, a play by S. Asher Gelman presented by Buffalo United Artists, directed by Todd Fuller, starring Jonathan Beckner, Christopher Clark, and Mickey Harmon runs through November 24, Friday & Saturday at 8:00 p.m. plus Sunday, November 18 at 7 at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (886-9239) www.buffalobua.org. No One Under 18 Admitted. Full frontal, mature themes. Runtime: 75 minutes without intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Josh, a theater producer, and Alex, a post-grad chemist, are married and are expecting their first child (via surrogate). As the play begins, however, we see three men lolling naked, enjoying a post-coitus afterglow, on a king size bed in a two-story apartment in Manhattan. It turns out that the couple has an “open marriage,” they both really like this young man Darius, a massage therapist, and want to be more involved with him. How much more is the question. Plays in the 80s and 90s were about AIDS, plays in the 90s and early 2000s were about marriage equality, and this is something new, a play dealing with “post-marriage equality” issues. It’s definitely “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Once again, Buffalo United Artists, now in their 26th season, with their founder and executive producer Javier Bustillos (honored by a star embedded in the Buffalo Theatre District’s “Plaza of the Stars”) proves that they know how to pick plays. AFTERGLOW worked in New York, and it works here. We read in the program that “the original Off-Broadway production of AFTERGLOW [opened] June 23, 2017 at the Loft at the Davenport Theater, where it ran for 468 performances before closing on August 12, 2018.” 468 performances!
So it was a surprise to read in the program that while the playwright, S. Asher Gelman has a long theater-related resume, AFTERGLOW is his first play script. Even more surprising, while Jonathan Beckner, who plays young Darius, has a theater background in Los Angeles, the two other leads have never been in a stage play before – Christopher Clark who plays the more tightly wound researcher Alex and Mickey Harmon who plays the more emotional producer Josh.
While Clark and Harmon were not quite as comfortable on stage as the more experienced Beckner, given the plot of the play, in which the two married men are exploring new territory in their relationship, some hesitancy as they tip-toed through the mine-fields didn’t bother me.
Credit Todd Fuller for the casting and expert direction. The 75 minutes (which turned out to be 70 by my watch) flew right by and afterwards, talking with “Clark” in the lobby he said that backstage the play feels like it’s 20 minutes long. I can see why. The set is made up of just three easily moved large rectangular boxes and most of the costume changes are done right in front of the audience (I did mention full frontal, right?) so there are no delays.
By the way, while the best-in-Buffalo post curtain meet’n’greets are over at the Paul Robeson Theatre where all the actors are in a receiving line, so even shy people can “have a moment” with the cast, the second best are at the Alleyway Theater (both BUA and Alleyway productions) where the cast always comes out into the lobby (and very quickly, too!) to mix’n’mingle. It’s a nice touch.
Now celebrating 26 years, the BUA website contains their Mission Statement which reads, in part: “We do not produce plays for the goal of making money. We produce theater that we feel has a message that needs to be heard in our community. BUA uses theater as a vehicle for social change, outreach and a means of communicating important aspects of the human experience that Buffalo audience members might not otherwise view and explore.”
BUA uses theater as a vehicle for social change, outreach and a means of communicating important aspects of the human experience that Buffalo audience members might not otherwise view and explore.
“Are we there yet?” is a question asked by members of marginalized groups as they become more mainstreamed. Across America, despite marriage equality, not to mention the recent mid-term election success of openly gay candidates, everyday there are many different struggles going on, and there are, and should be, and will continue to be plays of coming out, of acceptance, and of alarm. But this isn’t one of those stories. This is a story for the 21st century. At the most basic, it’s a story of a loving couple, on the eve of parenthood, getting a little anxious and not always handling everything as well as, say, “Dr. Phil” would have us do.
For a 70-minute play you get a lot, including some interesting philosophical discussions about life and love worth talking about on the way home, some snappy wisecracks (youth versus age and spouse versus spouse), and, one of my favorite moments, what I believe was a very insightful take on the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief. The five emotional states are usually listed chronologically as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. And, in many plays, that is the dramatic arc of one character. But here, in AFTERGLOW, the stages are parceled out to the different characters, so the group travels the distance, but not necessarily individually. That was new to me and I liked it a lot.
UP NEXT: Coming in March, THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY by James Lecesne, directed by Todd Warfield, starring Jimmy Janowski, “about the disappearance of a 14-year-old boy who dared to be different, and the small New Jersey town that will never be the same without him….”
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!