“Because it’s a wholly academic admission,” I told him. “I don’t have any experience to confirm it. I’ve never ... ”—my heart stopped beating but my mouth kept moving—“ ... had sex with a man.”

A sly smile crept over his face. “Well,” he said, clicking off the light, “Let’s take care of that, shall we?”

That was the first and only time we slept together. On one level, I was devastated that we never became lovers. But on another level, I took it in stride. Our relationship was long and complicated, but our roles had become concretized over the years: he was the Golden Boy, the A-list gay, who matched the lifestyle spreads in After Dark magazine. I was his bookish best friend, the neurotic artist, homely but consoled by my pretensions of intellect and talent. He gave me beauty; I gave him gravitas. We exchanged attributes in lieu of bodily fluids; it was our unspoken pact. And both of us were far too comfortable inhabiting those tropes to risk disaster and fashion new ones.

Bruce and I went to college in different states and missed one another fiercely, so we agreed not to repeat that mistake in graduate school. I’d study theatre at the Tisch School of the Arts, and he’d head uptown to Columbia for a medical degree. Together, we’d conquer New York, plumbing its hidden corners, insinuating ourselves into its demimonde.

One night Bruce announced, “I’ve got theater tickets. There’s this troupe near Sheridan Square that we just have to see.”

“How did you hear about them?” I asked.

“Kip the towel boy,” Bruce answered, confirming that his late-night social contacts far exceeded my own. “He says they’re the last authentic thing left in the West Village.”

From the outside, the theatre didn’t look like much — little more than a storefront with cheap wooden letters that spelled out RIDICULOUS THEATRICAL COMPANY. Lingering near the door, goths, gay couples with matching muttonchops, leftist neighborhood types with gray ponytails and fringe, and a few befuddled tourists who’d been lured downtown by half-price coupons. Inside there was a cramped vestibule and a tiny ticket window with bars; rather than a real person, I half-expected to find an automated gypsy with a coin-drop crystal ball.

After we picked up our tickets, an usher gestured to a staircase that spiraled down into the basement. It was painted in an explosion of colors and led straight into the psychedelic lobby below. I felt like I’d strayed onto the back lot of an especially trippy Sid and Marty Krofft show. There were placards bearing reviews, most notably from the oracular New York Times.

“The company’s been around for years,” Bruce informed me. “Now they’re on the dangerous brink of mainstream success.”

We shuffled our way into the house; the ceilings were unusually low, and the seats looked like they’d been salvaged from a fire sale. The stage itself tilted toward the audience at a precarious angle, as though a single misstep could send an actor sliding into your lap. But the red curtain with gold fringe belied these humble surroundings; it harked back to an era when the theatre was the province of Kings.

The houselights dimmed; we heard a thunder crack, and the howling of the wolves across the moors. The play began.

Tags: Books