A young New York actor finds his life imitating his art in this gay theater romance.
Mason Burroughs, an insecure, pudgy, 25-year-old actor, struggles for bit parts in Manhattan. The only bright spot in his life is his relationship with live-in boyfriend Eric, a nice video game programmer. Through luck and connections, Mason lands the second lead in a Broadway period piece called Masque, featuring Elizabethan palace intrigue, knife play, lengthy dying soliloquies, and a hot-and-heavy bisexual love triangle. Playing the seductive Count Ezio to Mason’s ingénue soldier Caleb is Kevin Caldwell, a gorgeous, charming, selfish actor whom Mason had a fierce, unrequited crush on years ago and with whom he will now have to play a climactic nudish sex scene. Adding to the pressure are an obnoxious understudy who looks exactly like Mason and has obvious designs on his part and Kevin’s body; a stern personal trainer who gets Mason in shape with man-killing workouts and revolting organic teas; and an imperious director who puts Mason through bizarre nude theater exercises. (There is a lot of nudity in the book, not all of it germane to character development.) Mason sheds pounds and adds muscle, builds his acting chops, and spends rehearsals making out with Kevin onstage—and finds his erstwhile lust now earnestly returned. Will he dump poor Eric and succumb to the rakish Kevin like Caleb swooning for Ezio? The steamy debut novel adds an overlay of confused identity to what is essentially a fantasia, with a Cinderella makeover swirling Mason into the limelight and the affections of a previously unattainable hunk; it’s sprightly but not too deep. Mason himself is not a compelling protagonist and his relationship with Eric feels dull and bickery. Kevin, an Adonis with intriguing hidden wounds, is the more captivating and actually less narcissistic figure, and there’s a splendid supporting cast of colorful, well-drawn secondary characters. The play-within-the novel delivers an absurd plot and bad dialogue (“My liege, I have been sent from the fronts of battle, to deliver unto you, this message”), but the book offers absorbing, lively procedures, from line-reading and note-dispensing to costume-fitting and investor-schmoozing. Pearson is a fluent writer, and though his lead can’t really carry the production, the show around him grabs the reader’s attention.
A lightweight, entertaining Broadway yarn.