Attack of the Theater People [Buy Now]
By Marc Acito
Broadway Books, 240 pages, $12.95
To give it a fair shot, Attack of the Theater People, a new novel about a gay musical lover, was assigned for review to a couple of hopelessly devoted theater people who, a decade ago, shared a script on the set of their college production of Oklahoma!, swapped silly jokes about chaps, and longed for each other amid the rolling thunder of papier-mâché tumbleweeds.
Now that's a gay cowboy story!
Greg (, left): First, a definition. Theater people are dramatic lovers of stage and song who will relate to the best and worst of times to Sondheim, love Angela Lansbury without irony, and sit through a really bad show twice, just for Patti LuPone. Shane, set us up with the background on Marc Acito's first book, How I Paid for College.
Shane: It was about Edward, this high school theater queen who can't pay for college, so he ends up embezzling from his wicked stepmother. In the first book, he gets into Juilliard, and that's where it leaves us.
Greg: And, in the second book, Attack of the Theater People, Edward and his band of theatrical misfits are transplanted to New York, where Edward learns he's being kicked out of Juilliard after his first year for being "too jazz hands."
Shane: The first story was the epitome of every stereotypical gay teen — there's Edward, his heavy-set best friend, his straight crush, and the pretty girl the straight crush was infatuated with. We've all been there.
Greg: The thing about stereotypes is that they're true. Gay men, particularly theater queens, can go back and find these characters in their lives.
Shane: In Theater People, Edward is still hung up on Doug, his well-endowed straight crush. But Doug is so scarce in Theater People. He's not even a D-lister in this book, but you can feel his presence everywhere.
Greg: And the chapters where Doug and Edward do interact are really the most compelling parts of the book — and the most provocative.
Shane: Ding, ding, ding. That's one of the reasons I liked them. We love the friendships in the story, but we really want the romance. And not just the racy part, but the heart of it. When Doug says, "I'm not like this with anyone else."
Greg: A friend of mine in high school had a straight crush who used those exact words.
Shane: The comedy in this book is great. There's the part where Edward gets arrested in the park while he's gagged in that experimental theater bit. Then there's the scene in the restaurant where they pretend to be Hasidic rabbis.
Greg: Bruce Springsteen — or at least the phenomenon of his success — plays a major role in this book.
Shane: My memory of Bruce Springsteen is the same as every gay man: that ass and the handkerchief. I couldn't tell you a song that he sings.
Greg: "Born in the U.S.A."
Shane: Right, he was looking over his shoulder. It was still all about the ass.
Greg: There are other references to the '80s. Things like, "Over the sound system, Cyndi Lauper sees my 'true colors shining through.'" That's something anyone can relate to. I don't think you have to be gay or a theater lover.
Shane: Any time you think about being in the '80s, you think of AIDS. I'm glad the book doesn't marginalize that, but it doesn't make it a central plot point either. I'm so sick of depressing books about gay prostitutes or AIDS victims. Theater People is a fun, easy read that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Greg: Let's talk about the main musical in the book: Starlight Express, about talking train cars with the actors on roller skates.
Shane: That wasn't real.
Greg: It was real.
Shane: It can't be real.
Greg: It was by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the creator of Cats.
Shane: Well, that explains it. Cats was awful.
Greg: Rrrowr. Obviously, Acito does a terrific job of showing how Starlight was an insane spectacle.
Shane: The musical plays a major role in the climax. And, I have to tell you, the climax wasn't big enough for me. There's so much build up — I had to sit through a chapter with a history lesson by a ticket usher — and we don't get a big finish. Attack of the Theater People is so Empire Strikes Back. It's that story you have to read before you get to Return of the Jedi. At the end, it leaves you hanging. Hung Solo is frozen. I want to see him thawed.
Greg: Han. Han Solo.
Shane: Says you. But Edward is the most pathetic, lovable loser you'd ever meet in your life. I want a book where Edward finds himself. That's what I want to see in the third book.
Greg: What if this isn't a trilogy? What if this is it?
Shane: Then I feel gypped. It's a great book, but this can't be the end.
Greg: Acito knew he'd get another $12.95 out of us. That bitch.