Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman said, "There's theater in life, obviously, and there's life in theater."
Richard Taylor Pearson's delightful debut novel, "The Role," offers a front row seat and backstage pass to the staging of a Broadway play, from auditions to opening night, and demonstrates the physical and emotional labor of love theater folk endure in order to make a fantasy world come to life.
Like all great works of theater, "The Role" features a sudsy cast of characters reminiscent of "All About Eve" and "Shakespeare in Love."
Mason Burroughs, our protagonist, is the young aspiring New York City actor waiting for his big break. Gamer geek boyfriend, Eric, showers Mason with generous and unconditional affection, encouragement and support.
Enter hunky rising star Kevin Caldwell, Mason's acting school classmate and former crush, who supposedly fled to Hollywood, leaving a devastated Mason behind. The two cross paths at an audition for "Masque," an Elizabethan drama written by Colin Shapiro, a renowned playwright desperate to remain relevant.
Mason arrives late, but Kevin luckily has an in with the director, James Merchant, a legend of the Great White Way. Fast forward to the first read-through, where Mason has landed a lead role as Caleb, opposite Kevin's Count Ezio, where the two are part of a love triangle completed by Mina, portrayed by the Tony-nominated Julia Pierce.
Without giving too much away, let it suffice to say that the drama on stage pales in comparison to what transpires among the actors when they're not rehearsing. Life imitates art when Mason and Kevin realize their feelings for each other may resemble those of their characters, much to the chagrin of Eric, and also Alex, Mason's understudy and Kevin's friend with benefits.
Anyone involved in theater, either professionally or just as a hobby, can attest to the bonds that form during a stage production. Friendships and romance naturally result from the time spent together reciting lines and blocking movement, and during the occasional drink or snack after rehearsal. Pearson's exquisite prose manages to bring this atmosphere to life on the page, where the players almost feel like members of your own family.
Furthermore, Mason is an especially genuine, admirable lead character who, like most of us and regardless of our occupation, experiences insecurity, infatuation and inspiration, even when he least expects it. If Pearson were compelled to revisit Mason, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to read about his latest acting adventures.
As they say in the theater, "The Role" is well worth the price of admission.
Richard Taylor Pearson