Staging a musical in Purgatory can be absolute hell.
Lonnie Coleridge last saw the sun in 1968. Since then, he’s been consigned to Limbo, still wearing the same tie-dyed T-shirt and bell-bottomed jeans he had on when he left his life behind. He and others like him have one chance each year at redemption: produce a show for the Greek pantheon. Whoever pleases this very specific—and temperamental—fan group could earn the right to move on.
But after a literal act of god (*cough* Hermes *cough*) destroys their sets, lights, and costumes, the company needs emergency help to rebuild. Without it, all of them could poof out of existence forever.
Out-of-work theater technician TD Baylor has precisely three things on his cosmic wish list: a job, a place to stay, and a boyfriend who isn’t a total tool. He thinks he’s got the first two nailed when he gets a line on a two-week gig that includes room and board. So what if the job tip came from a guy who was leaning way too hard into the LOTR cosplay at a sketchy Halloween pop-up? At this point, TD doesn’t have anything more to lose, so he figures…what the hell.
He didn’t realize hell was the operative word.
When Lonnie greets him at the theater door, though...whoa. TD fantasizes that item number three could be within his reach. But then Lonnie gives him the bad news: This is Purgatory Playhouse, aka Theater of the Darned. In two weeks—if they’re lucky and can successfully mount a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream—the company will return to Limbo after the curtain falls. If they’re not lucky?
Remember that part about hell?
Purgatory Playhouse is part of the multi-author Magic Emporium Series. Each book stands alone, but each one features an appearance by Marden’s Magic Emporium, a shop that can appear anywhere, but only once and only when someone’s in dire need. This book contains a theater techie who’s one couch surf away from homeless, a production assistant who’s sort of, um, not alive, Greek gods behaving very badly indeed, and a guaranteed HEA.
TD tracked the drift of steam from the cauldrons up to the ceiling where purple-tinged smoke roiled and twisted.
He frowned at the thick clouds. He’d wrangled enough fog machines in his career to know that prolonged exposure to this kind of shit wasn’t good for performers’—or technicians’—lungs. Didn’t the owner of this shop care about his employees’ health?
Come to think of it, where were the employees? The glittery arrows on the floor seemed to pulse, pointing the way around the mermaid. Oookay then. He’d find somebody and warn them that they really needed to ventilate this place better or they’d be cruising for a worker’s comp bruising.
The rear of the shop, however, was as empty as the front. A half-open door stood behind a bulky counter. TD had to hand it to the place—that counter looked like actual stone. He’d worked with some talented scenic artists in his day, folks who could make plywood look like marble and masonite look like cracked linoleum. Hell, he’d done it himself, and his skills lay more in set construction than decoration. He rapped one knuckle against the counter, directly below a shelf holding an extremely ratty burlap sack.
“Shit!” He rubbed his hand, the skin abraded enough to show a little blood. The damn counter was as rough and unforgiving as actual granite.
“Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize anybody was here.”
TD glanced up from his skinned knuckles. A tall, willowy man, pointed ears protruding from his long platinum blond hair, suddenly popped up from behind the counter. Clearly the guy was leaning way in to the LOTR motif, down to the jerkin that looked like real suede as opposed to a cheap Halloween knock-off. “No worries. I was just, uh, looking around.” TD eyed the sack. “Although there’s not a lot to look at. Where’s all your stock?”
“Oh. Um.” The guy glanced at the door in the rear wall as it swung open to reveal the Gandalf-equivalent to the clerk’s Legolas. Except instead of Ian McKellen’s somewhat ruddy complexion, this guy’s skin had a cooler tone, almost as if he were standing under a baby spotlight with an ice-blue gel. He nodded at not-Legolas and disappeared behind the door without uttering a word.
“Was that your boss?” TD asked. “Because I need to talk to him.”
The guy’s eyes—tip-tilted and green as new leaves—widened. “Nobody talks to Marden.” His diagonal brows bunched. “Well, I guess it’s more accurate to say Marden talks to nobody.” He smiled brightly. “I’m Joril, and it will be my honor to assist you.”
“Hmmm.” TD narrowed his eyes. “You have any trouble breathing?”
Joril blinked, then sniffed experimentally. “Should I?”
“Your lungs don’t bother you? No urge to cough? No pain in your chest?”
TD pointed to the smoke swirling above them. “Because this fog effect, as atmospheric as it is, could be affecting your health. Do you know what chemical your boss is using?”
Joril’s expression cleared. “Oh! That’s easy. Magic.”
TD didn’t roll his eyes. Much. “Magic. Right.” The Emporium’s staff was probably paid to perpetuate the illusion. Hell, if they paid him, TD could swear it was actual fumes from the Cracks of Doom. “I, uh, don’t suppose you need any help?”
Joril glanced at the door where the Gandalf clone—excuse me, Marden—had disappeared. “Does it show that much?”
TD gestured to the empty shop. “Granted, there’s not a lot of traffic at the moment—”
“I know. I think that’s the only reason Marden picked me.” He smiled diffidently. “It’s my first day. I really need the job since my clan lost that wager with the Underlake dwarves.”
With a Herculean effort, TD controlled his irritation. It was one thing to not to break character—any performer worth their union card managed that as soon as the curtain rose—but it was another to bury yourself in the part when you were in actual physical danger. “Right.”
E.J. Russell (she/her) ), author of the award-winning Mythmatched LGBTQ+ paranormal romance series, holds a BA and an MFA in theater, so naturally she spent three decades as a financial manager, database designer, and business intelligence consultant (as one does). She’s now abandoned data wrangling, however, and spends her days wrestling words across a rainbow of genres. Count on high snark, low angst, and happy endings.
Reality? Eh, not so much.
She’s married to Curmudgeonly Husband, a man who cares even less about sports than she does. Luckily, CH loves to cook, or all three of their children (Lovely Daughter and Darling Sons A and B) would have survived on nothing but Cheerios, beef jerky, and satsuma mandarins (the extent of E.J.’s culinary skill set).
E.J. lives in rural Oregon, enjoys visits from her wonderful adult children, and indulges in good books, red wine, and the occasional hyperbole.
Purgatory Playhouse by E.J. Russell follows the adventures of theater technician TD Baylor, who is dealing with a perfect storm of problems. When he stumbles into Marden’s Magic Emporium, a fortuitous ad seems like the answer to his prayers…even though it’s wrapped around three giant dog biscuits that he doesn’t really have a use for…or does he? Thus begins an adventure that leads him to meet his idol, Alonzo Coleridge, but that’s impossible, just as impossible as their mutual attraction that can only last until the production goes on, right? Anything can happen when the Greek pantheon is involved, and they’re definitely involved!
This fantasy gay romance takes one on a wonderful and wacky adventure that features a very special theater production. The gradual revelation of the various characters that figure prominently in popular Greek myths and the restitutions or revelations that change the direction of their “lives” are very creative. The story is a wonderful twist on the idea of Purgatory, and a very fun look at the Greek gods and their foibles, plus a sweet romance.
I’m always delighted to see a new story by this author, because there’s always a novel perspective on traditional tropes and myths. I adore the creativity that is mixed with realistic facts, and this visit to the Theater of the Darned grabbed my attention and provided humor and entertainment throughout the entire story. Those who need a refresher (or an introduction) to the myths alluded to, or details about theater production, or the characters in the production itself…can just take a peek at the very end. I was sad when the story ended, and I hope to see these guys again, but I confess that I’m a big fan of whatever this author writes and will enthusiastically join in on whatever adventure she tackles next!
A copy of this story was provided for review