I finally wrestled in Mason - what an effort that took. I'm admin'ing a cobalt system, so it's very hard (close to impossible & I gave up) to upgrade the Apache from 1.3.6 and with it, mod_perl 1.21. The latest Mason requires 1.21_01 (*roll*), so I dug around and found that mod_perl 1.21 was released July '99 (ahh, memories;)) and I guessed that Mason 1.0 (which was released a year later) wouldn't require 1.21_01 - I guess I got lucky. Then it was digging through the old documentation to get it to work (the current documentation will not work).
So now I can toss PHP and do my server-parsed pages in Mason/Perl... Whee!!
Update: Another thing - I had to manually move HTML::Mason stuff from/usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.6.1 to/usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.003. I guess mod_perl, which is statically built into Apache isn't picking up my new upgraded perl's @INC path.