DRAMA; 1hr 54min
STARRING: Claire Danes, Zac Efron, Christian McKay
Mercury rising: from left, McKay and Efron
Imagine the thrill for a 17-year-old high schooler of being chosen by esteemed actor and director Orson Welles (McKay) for a role in Julius Caesar, the first production of Welles’s new Mercury Theatre repertory company. It’s 1937 and in a magic right-place-right-time moment, acting hopeful Richard Samuels (Efron, ideally cast) is swept into the wake of the unruly Wellesian passage through the rehearsal process for his snazzily rebooted Shakespearean directorial debut. The question is, can Richard stay afloat?
Welles is an arrogant and manipulative one-man band: lordly, bossy and endlessly On, he charms, wheedles, threatens and cajoles his young cast — apart from the fictional Richard, they are all actual actors of their time — into delivering the greatness he needs. Newcomer McKay eats the role alive with such assurance you’d swear he had been at this for years, while Danes is a buoyant presence as Orson’s fiercely ambitious assistant. Richard Linklater (Before Sunset ), who loves the dance of nimble dialogue, directs with such a spotlit feel for the era and the stage that you don’t need to know Julius Caesar to understand how, in the end, the play really is the thing.