“Me And Orson Welles”
 
            This is a little Depression-era period piece that has some surprising charm, especially considering the huge questions surrounding its release.
            The first question is, “Can Zac Efron really act?”  The former teenage heartthrob and star of the “High School Musical” series takes on a dramatic role, and does quite well with it.  He plays Richard Samuels, a still-in-high-school young man who dreams of Broadway.  He happens to get an opportunity through a chance encounter with Orson Welles in front of The Mercury Theater, where Mr. Welles was planning to open his “modern” production of Julius Caesar:  yes, the Shakespeare play in a Fascist context (it’s 1937, and they were still making fun of the comically ranting upstart demagogue named Adolph Hitler).  Yes, Mr. Efron sings a little, but sort of as a throw-in, while strumming a couple of chords on a ukulele.
            The second question is, “Who is Christian McKay?”  The British newcomer to Hollywood plays the pivotal part of Orson Welles, the larger-than-life man-about-town who is a force of nature, bullying his underlings, charming the press, improvising on his radio show, seducing the pretty young women (getting very angry whenever anybody mentions his pregnant wife at home), and here, cajoling his theater crew to work through all the obstacles of staging this impractical performance, the biggest obstacle being that they’re always waiting for Mr. Welles to show up.  Nothing can happen without his fiery ignition of the creative engine, and once he gets rolling, he can’t be contradicted or interrupted.    But somehow Mr. McKay plays this egotistical, bombastic manipulator in such a way that we don’t hate him.  It’s about recognizing genius when we see it, and making allowances for it.
            Richard falls for Sonja (Claire Danes), who shows the kid the ropes, in more ways than one, but while he’s consumed with his schoolboy crush, she’s already moved on---she’ll literally do anything to be able to meet the right people.  Richard is so upset that Sonja so cavalierly switches her dalliance to Mr. Welles, whom she hopes will introduce her to Mr. Selznek, who’s directing “Gone With The Wind,” that Richard unadvisedly confronts Mr. Welles, who summarily dismisses him, but not before a roaringly successful opening night.
            The third question is, “Is it possible to do a movie about a play?”  Well, yes and no.  It’s difficult for viewers to continue to suspend disbelief when the actors on the screen are acting like they are acting.  But those who love the pulse and energy of live theater will find many points of identification, even though it’s 1937.  Some things never change:  props gone missing, actors wrangling about blocking, directors schmoozing reluctant stars, dropped lines, caustic carping, and everybody’s utter dependence on the enthusiastic approbation of a one-time collection of anonymous strangers.
            “Me And Orson Welles” does a credible job of creating the atmosphere of Broadway in the late 1930’s, and we feel like we’re there, with a young, earnest Richard, at a chance encounter that turns into a magical opportunity, making memories that will last a lifetime.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas