“The Invincible Theatre” by Felice Picano from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)
Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.
If you’re put off by the language of this next story, you owe it to yourself to get over that, quickly. In my opinion it is the sexiest story in the collection. It’s also the most ambitious. Not surprising, when you consider the source. It’s like bringing an atomic bomb to a knife fight.
Monsieur Guillaume Darrot and the Invincible Theatre is the name used by the travelling troupe that sets up shop in the square where the main character sells flowers. On the threshold of his teen years, no longer a child but not yet a man, he becomes enamored with the five mysterious figures who make up the company. He parlays a stint as an unskilled laborer, schlepping boxes off the caravans, into one as a general stagehand, moving scenery and operating the main curtain, and then follows the leading man around until he catches his eye. When the players pull up stakes and prepare to head off to the next town, he decides, quite believably, to cast his lot with theirs. As they journey, he continues (ahem) to insinuate himself into the company. It’s sheer bawdy fun.
While I was reading it I kept thinking of one of the author’s novels, Late in the Season, which has a similar setting (the performing arts), and similar themes (the loss of innocence, bisexuality, polyamory), and yet is a vastly dissimilar story, set in a different country, and time, and time of life. The young man in this story is just discovering the many possibilities life holds, while the novel’s protagonist, in the prime of his life, takes certain actions precisely because he feels his options evaporating.
You ought to read this, and Late in the Season, too.