The complicated life of a repertory theatre actor takes center stage in the extremely well-written novel Strutting and Fretting by debut author Kevin McKeon. Opening in the 1970s resort town of Santa Maria, California, during one summer theatre season, the story soon plunges the reader deeply into lead character Bob’s angst-ridden life.
His ill-considered marriage back in college has ended badly, and Bob now spends his time either agonizing over what went wrong in the failed relationship, or nurturing a near-constant fantasy of bedding virtually every woman he meets.
Well, maybe not every woman. There’s Lou, the gruff middle-aged stage manager. And there’re the overworked and underappreciated wardrobe girls, whose names he never bothers to get. He barely gives them a glance, and when he does, he says with the characteristically wry humor that pervades the book, “I felt like a white slaveowner surveying the plantation.”
But pretty much every other female is fair game as he tries to sort out and balance his basically good-guy persona with the more controlling side of his nature.
Yes, Bob is complicated. And this superb work of fiction peels back the layers of his carefully guarded soul for readers to explore. It is a masterful examination of a young man struggling to balance chronic low self-esteem with a performer’s perpetual need for approval.
But there is also a skillful leavening of lightheartedness as Bob and the entertaining ensemble of supporting players gamely make their way through a season of Shakespeare, and audience-pleasing musicals, and the occasionally challenging contemporary play.
There is so much to like and admire about this book, from the well-drawn, three dimensional characters (including a fellow actor who carries a trembling chihuahua with him everywhere in a gym bag) to Darkly Effeminate Mario, the hypersensitive director of Henry V, to the author’s evocative writing style that succinctly sums up the raison d’être for actors everywhere to do what they do best:
“Basically, an actor was little more than a bum,” Bob explains to the reader at one point. “A vagrant. An addict. Theatre was the drug of choice. Once you were hooked, you were constantly on unemployment, constantly auditioning, always at the mercy of directors’ or casting directors’ taste…The performance was the high, the community and the friends you made, they were the high. But coming down was a bitch, and getting off it could kill you.”
In short, this is a wonderful insight into the world behind the stage lights — written by a man who has clearly been there, pursuing the mysterious passion that drives actors the world over to practice their craft.
We give Strutting and Fretting five-plus stars, and put it at the forefront of all the serious new fiction released this year. It currently is available only as a self-published novel like so many other Indie works on Amazon. But it deserves a much larger stage, if you will.
Don’t be surprised to see this rare gem rise quickly to bestseller status either on Amazon or with a New York publisher — and then be optioned to Hollywood. We sincerely hope there are more works forthcoming by this talented writer.