Behind the Mask…No More, by Byron Nease

Behind The Mask...No MoreFinished 3-27-09, rating 3.5/5, memoir, pub. 2008

On the difficult days, denial helps, but denial ends.  Forgetfulness helps … a call from a friend helps me, a hug from someone I love, a stiff drink, a wonderful audience, but my forgetfulness ends.  And what I am left with is something I cannot create, cannot fabricate, cannot innovate.  It’s something that my grandmother called Grace.  It’s not about being good or bad, right or wrong.  It’s about being loved, anyway.

page 60

Byron Nease shares his life from the early days of abuse and abandonment, through his Broadway days in New York and Toronto, past his many trips around the world, all with the never ending courage of a man who finds out he  is HIV positive at a time when it is a death sentence.  He is a survivor and an inspirational one.

I agreed to review this book because I love going to the theatre and Nease spent five years in Toronto in Phantom of the Opera and I wanted the scoop. What I found was the heartfelt story of his life told with heartbreaking honesty and vulnerability.  There were stories about his days on Broadway, but the purpose of the book is to paint a picture of a life full of opportunity and hope.

The book is full of photos and family stories.  I also really appreciated Nease’s description of how he reconciled the religion of his youth as a preacher’s son to the reality of his life as a gay man.  He really is an interesting man and this book provides great insight into his over 20 year struggle with HIV and his strained family relationships due to his sexuality.  I think this would be great book if you are interested in either of these topics.

I was a little disappointed in the Broadway part of the book only because it was such a small part.  What stories he does tell are fun and I enjoyed hearing about the wardrobe malfunctions and the antics on stage that the audience is not aware of .

Byron Nease has led an interesting and truly inspirational life.  I am glad that he let us see behind the mask.  I’m better off for it.