I don’t know about you, but one of the things I’ve really missed during the lockdowns has been theatre. The communal experience of seeing a story told live was and will always be a big part of my cultural diet, so I approached Daniel de Lorne’s new gay romance warmly. A gay love affair set in a theatre? I can think of worse ways to pass the time.
And so we come to Set the Stage in which young architect Gabriel Mora returns home to look after his ill mother and gets involved with the place that is dearest to her heart, the Riverview Community Theatre. Now he must face up to his past, including the hunky red-headed stage manager.
One thing de Lorne is very good at is filling the cracks of romance novel tropes with believable angst. Not only is Gabriel feeling guilty about not being around for his ill mother, but the firm he works for is also designing the redevelopment that will destroy the theatre. In de Lorne’s hands this contrivance actually works.
Meanwhile our red hot stage manager Bruce (cue the Monty Python sketch about Australian ‘Bruces’) is dealing with mounting debts and an alcoholic sister, and a past relationship that Gabriel may or may not have ruined. Like watching a procedural TV show, you may know exactly what’s going to happen, but how they get there is the fun part.
De Lorne’s depiction of regional theatre may be a little bit on the trite side, but his ability to fill his story with emotional twists and turns works well in this scenario. There’s a genuine warmth to the story and a melancholia around things that are loved and lost.
Interestingly, this novel forms the middle section in a trilogy of romance novels, sandwiched between two straight stories (the links here are minor and you can easily read Set the Stage on its own). MM romance fiction has a diverse readership with a lot of straight women loving tales of gay men falling in love (just like Queer As Folk had a fierce straight female fanbase). It may seem like a mundane piece of representation, but it hits at a demographic that is influential and important: the ‘average’ suburban woman. The acceptance, and desire for, gay love stories among the heterosexual heartland is a strong indicator of how far we’ve come.
By Chad Armstrong