By Elaine Bergstrom
The film Me and Orson Welles, as well as the book on which it is based, looks at the controversial 1937 production of Julius Caesar at the famed Mercury Theatre in New York City. Caesar was the first stage play at the Mercury and secured Orson Welles’ reputation as a director. It also took place less than three months after the dilapidated theater was purchased. As a result, along with rehearsals, the company had to work on restoring the theater.
The Mercury no longer exists, but the film’s producers found a theater on the Isle of Man whose interior so closely resembled the famous site that little work was needed to reproduce the historic setting. The filmmakers were also faithful to the original Welles production of the Shakespeare play, using copies of the original stage plans and photographs to recreate the lighting and stage effects and the fascist imagery of sets and costumes — all to the accompaniment of Marc Blitzstein’s original score.
The story is told from the point of view of teenager Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), a naive young man who gets picked to play Lucius. He is enthralled by the energy of the new company and falls in love with an older woman, production assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes). But, like The Aviator, the fun here is watching new stars take on the roles of legends of the stage and screen — Eddie Marsan as a young John Houseman, Simon Nehan as Joe Holland and James Tupper as Joseph Cotten.
Welles went on to create one of cinema’s greatest classics, Citizen Kane — which starred Cotten and himself — and had a major role in creating the radio drama that panicked a nation, War of the Worlds.
While this film may be best known for getting teens interested — via their love of Efron — in the era of their great-grandparents, it may also be the breakout role for Christian McKay, who nails the ego and genius of the young director.
“Me and Orson Welles” is now showing on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.
© 2008 Freestyle Releasing