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Me and Orson Welles, by Robert Kaplow, is a surprising little book. It seems, at first glance, to be a breezy read about a dictatorial, egocentric director and a boy who gets to witness his genius. However, it happens to have some complicated and wonderful twists in that old cliche.
The book is the story of Richard Samuels, a New Jersey High School student with theatrical aspirations. He’s wandering around in the city one day and gets spotted by Orson Welles, and manages to get a small role in Welles’ production of Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR. The next week of his life is a whirlwind of mayhem and magic. He falls in love with a girl named Sonja, who works for the Mercury Theatre (Welles’ brand-new company). He spends time with Orson Welles, watching him record a radio show, and of course, he watches Julius Caesar come together for its Opening Night. Along the way, Kaplow tosses in lots and lots of references to the time period. Some of them feel shoe-horned in, as if he’s merely demonstrating his knowledge of the early thirties. But regardless, it is much more fun if you’re familiar with the cast of characters in this theatrical time period. Similarly, the more knowledge of Shakespeare’s Caesar you have, the better.
Welles is portrayed in the book as a tyrant, and perhaps even a bit of a mad man. But there is much more to this character than that- this is not the theatre-version of The Devil Wears Prada. Welles has a charisma to him on paper that brings you on his side, rooting for him. Which is where the parallels to Caesar come into play. Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s greatest, Caesar brings three characters to your attention, and you root for each one at a certain point in the play. The same thing happens in this book. You’re on Welles’ side until the very end, when the plot turn changes your perspective, and suddenly you’re with Robert.
The book will transport you into its time period, without a doubt. It fills your head with the vivid images of the times. It’s exciting, it’s sweet, it’s really, really fun to read.
Heather Trow is an actress, writer and alternative comedy enthusiast.
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