Afterglow, The Interview: The Allure, the Hope, and the Risk of the Heart.
In the heat of last summer, I had the pleasure of seeing Midnight Theatricals’ Afterglow, a two hour two act exploration (click here to read my review) of a gay couple flirting with the very topical idea of openness, communication, and art of the modern marriage.
It’s a thoughtful and compelling dissertation on the redefining of romantic coupledom in gay New York City by writer and director S. Asher Gelman, a first time playwright. He clearly understands gay culture and the way twenty and thirty year old New York homosexuals speak to one another and think about their world.
So I was curious what these young actors would have to say about the characters that they play nightly. Luckily I had the opportunity to sit down and speak to two out of the three fine actors and hear first hand their thoughts on the play and its evolution to the much improved, tighter, and far more solid 90 minute one act production that exists today.
First to the table, was one of the actors who has been with the production from the beginning of its run at The Loft at the Davenport Theatre, Brandon Haagenson (Theatre Row’s The Vanity), who plays the puppy dog romantic theatre director, Josh.
Josh is one half of the very appealing gay couple that are in their fifth year together and at the center of this surprisingly compelling relationship drama. Played with a winning mischievious smile while also brandishing a convincing argument for sexual and emotional openness, Josh is married to the more linear and structured Alex, initially played by the appealing Robbie Simpson (Berkshire Theater Festival’s A Class Act) when I saw it eight months ago, but is now played very convincingly by Joe Chisholm (NYMF’s 2000 Nickels).
Coming in midway through the interview and new to Afterglow, David Merten (Judson’s And Then There Were None) joined in with the conversation. He is now inhabiting the role of Darius, most recently played by Patrick Reilly (La Mirada’s American Idiot).
Here’s what these two very thoughtful and generous actors (thanks guys, this was my very first interview, and you made it so easy) had to say about relationships, hope, sex apps, nudity, surrogate babies, and Afterglow, the hit off-Broadway play that keeps getting extended and extended.
Ross: So why don’t we start with you telling me a little about yourself and what brought you to the project. And what your first, initial opinion of it was.
Brandon Haagenson (Josh): I’ve been an actor in the city for eight years now. I came here a year after college. And I actually come from a musical theater world. I sing and dance. And so that was the bulk of my career in my 20’s. And lately, I wanted to get into more serious plays, stuff that had something to say, stuff that there’s a reason that it’s being done right now. And when I saw the breakdown for this it was all about the love triangle.
Here’s a couple and they open their relationship up. And it sounded sexy. And bold. So, of course, that piqued my interest. But then, when I looked at the sides for it– when I looked at the two scenes that they asked us to audition with– one of them was a fight that I was having with my husband. And just the way that they were connecting and not connecting with each other, the way that they were screaming at each other– it’s this weird, non-sequitur argument. It’s like, “What are they even fighting about?”
They’re all over the place. But it really means something to both of them, what they’re trying to get at. And I thought that’s something really fun to play. That’s something I’ve seen my parents do. That’s something I’ve seen couples do in public. That’s something I’ve seen my friends, who are dating each other, do. And so that scene of arguing with my husband was one of my favorite things that drew me to the project.
Ross: And what was the other scene?
BH: The other scene [laughter] is a monologue where I’m getting stoned with my boyfriend. And I compare our relationship to Woody Allen and Soon-Yi…. It’s a really silly scene but it’s actually really sweet. Because Josh finds a parallel where he compares himself to finding romance in a place that you wouldn’t expect. And then, of course, his boyfriend is like, “Wait. Woody Allen and Soon-Yi? They’re decades apart. She was sort of his stepdaughter. What are you saying?” And Josh is all caught up in his words like, “Wait, wait. That’s not what I meant.” And it’s this really cute, sweet thing.
Ross: So tell me, what do you think of your character, Josh as a person, when you first read it?
BH: I think Josh dives really quickly. I think he’s the first person to jump. He jumps before anyone even says ‘Jump.’ You know what I mean? I’m actually a much more cautious person than that. But that’s one of the reasons that I love playing him. I love that freedom to just– whatever you’re feeling, whatever you see in someone. That little spark behind someone’s eyes and you just go after it.
And you just decide to chase whatever that impulse is, all the way down a tunnel that most people wouldn’t go. And most people, when they’re watching the show, they look at what I’m doing [laughter], and they’re like, “Dude. Don’t–” they like see the car colliding before it does. But that’s kind of fun, you know? (for the full interview, click here)