BWW Feature: Regional Premiere Cast of AFTERGLOW -- a Steamy, Stripped Down Look at Gay Intimacy -- Announced by Utah Rep
The cast of the first post-New York City production of the runaway off-Broadway hit AFTERGLOW has been announced by Utah Repertory Theater Company.
Yes, in Salt Lake City.
AFTERGLOW -- with The Climax Is Just the Beginning as its tagline -- is described as "a raw, one-act play exploring the emotional, intellectual and physical connections between three men and the broader implications within their relationships."
A married gay couple, Josh and Alex, explore the ups and downs of an open relationship in AFTERGLOW. When an intimate connection forms with Darius, a man invited to share their bed one night, "the three men must come to terms with their individual definitions of love, loyalty and trust. Relationships are shaken, and commitments are challenged."
Johnny Hebda plays the role of Josh, A.J. Neuschwander plays Alex, and Sterling Allen is Darius in the Utah Rep production.
The Salt Lake City-based theater company has as its mission staging premieres and neglected classics for audiences who may not otherwise be able to see these acclaimed, unique shows. Utah Rep has produced state and regional premieres, including "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "August: Osage County," "Straight" and very successfully "Bare: a Pop Opera." The unique offerings have brought the company acclaim for its bold productions.
"Despite nudity and explicit gay sex, this is a substantial drama with believable characters whose emotions are real and tug at the heart," according to a review of the off-Broadway premiere. "AFTERGLOW is a well-written, character-driven drama, kind of a gay contemporary 'Betrayal' (by Harold Pinter), which also involved infidelities that led to tragic consequences."
How AFTERGLOW came to the conservative state of Utah is a interesting tale. Hebda, founder of Utah Rep, saw the off-Broadway staging and knew it was a show to keep his eye on. Senator Jim Dabakis, the most liberal and outspoken lawmaker in the Utah State Legislature, also saw the production and recommended it to Hebda. A fierce advocate for the arts as a source of contemporary discussions, Dabakis has championed the company's productions in the past.
"Once my husband Stephen and I we got past the shocking nudity, we realized that this is a serious, important timely piece of writing," Dabakis explains. "It addresses a giant elephant in the room of young gay people's lives in the early 21st century. Without judgment or preachiness, AFTERGLOW is a frank glimpse into the Grindr/Tinder social media, hook-up world.
"This play is a thoughtful, controversial, introspective mirror of our times," he says. "Hopefully, AFTERGLOW will be a springboard for important discussions that need to be held."
"There is a real danger for any potential audience member to assume if they aren't gay that AFTERGLOW isn't for them," says Josh Patterson, Utah Rep's AFTERGLOW director. "The heart of this play envelops themes that apply to everyone: relationships, love, trust, vulnerability, communication, hope, dating and domesticity in the digital age, and risk. It is beautiful and it is tragic. I wouldn't say elements of this play apply to any one group or another because that would distract from the fact that the whole play applies to who we all are on a very basic human level.
"Utah audiences especially need to see this play because it will challenge their expectations and touch each of them in a unique way."
Patterson explains potential theatergoer responses to AFTERGLOW by saying: "This show will keep the discussion going a lot longer than in the car ride home, and not everyone is going to agree. I hope people come out of this play feeling encouraged to have tough conversations, even when it seems easier to say nothing at all."
The playwright has said nudity is not a gimmick to sell tickets. "For me, a lot of the conversations that show up in this play are [based on] conversations I've had myself while being naked, so I wanted to explore the power of nudity," Gelman told an interviewer. (He was also AFTERGLOW's director.)
"The play starts with nudity, and that not only immediately communicates a sense of intimacy and vulnerability to the audience, but also invites them to be vulnerable themselves," says Patterson. "AFTERGLOW is raw and emotional. We want the audience to understand that they are peeking into the inner workings of these relationships in a very real way, and we want the novelty of that to wear off quickly. The audience needs to be on board right away in order to keep up with and be open to the intellectual conversations that follow."
The long-running, multiple-extended AFTERGLOW played its final performance Off-Broadway on Aug. 12. Previously scheduled through July 1, the show's final extension followed its one-year anniversary.
AFTERGLOW will be produced internationally in Amsterdam, Mexico City and London, with more details and cities to be announced.
Utah Rep's production of AFTERGLOW plays Nov. 16-Dec. 2 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Studio Theater. For more information and ticket purchases, visit UtahRep.org.
ORIGINAL PRODUCTION AND S. ASHER GELMAN PHOTO BY MATI GELMAN