ACQUA CALDA by Keith McDermott
Kirkus Star


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An impressive debut about an older gay actor facing mortality.

Storywriter McDermott keenly captures Gerald, an actor and self-described “promiscuous romantic,” who looks back wryly and regretfully on a life of intermittent success, lots of sex, and no permanent relationships. Now in his mid-40s, Gerald lives in a plain studio apartment near Times Square, blocking the blare of a jukebox from the bar downstairs with a white-noise machine and trading barbs with an obese female friend. A call from eccentric, self-absorbed theater director Bill Weiss breaks Gerald’s almost stuporous isolation. Weiss wants Gerald to fly to Sicily to appear in a new play. The actor accepts, even as AIDS steadily weakens his health. He joins the company, skillfully limned by McDermott, and they’re off to work on an avant-garde piece that seems poised between innovation and pretense. (Though it’s fictional, McDermott’s narrative becomes a log that theater students could pore over; McDermott, who appeared in Equus opposite Richard Burton, gets at the concrete detail that makes up an actor’s work.) One night after rehearsal, the company goes swimming in a misty, sulfurous pool. During this sensual scene, Gerald feels strong arms embrace him from behind and turns to face a ruggedly handsome Italian actor. Gerald’s latent romanticism stirs, but only briefly, and after a furtive encounter, the two move away from a deeper relationship. Gerald’s health deteriorates further, and he faints on opening night. The stage manager orders him to his quarters to rest, but he refuses, realizing that theater—its people, words, and passion—propels his life. “Tu me colge en adrore,” he prays, quoting a line he speaks in the play: “Take me while I am in ecstasy.”

A vivid portrait that will make many, gay or straight, feel empathy.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7867-1508-1
Page count: 314pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004