The luckiest kid in the world gets a shot at appearing in an Orson Welles play—and falls in love, to boot.
It’s a pity that Kaplow appears to be aiming for the grown-up market in this adult outing, because, as a YA author, he has crafted one of the best depictions of male adolescent yearning ever to hit the page—though one that few adolescents are likely to read. It’s 1937, and Richard Samuels is a 17-year-old Jewish kid living in Dullsville, New Jersey. Bright but not too nerdy, with a pretty but somewhat cool-to-the-touch girlfriend, Richard is swimming along the high-school current without a lot effort. Desperate for more, he prowls the libraries and museums of Manhattan, dreaming of poetry, art, and the theater, until one Saturday he spies “a little action down beyond Bryant Park” and goes to see what the fuss is about. It turns out to be the Mercury Theatre troupe mounting their theater’s sign and putting the final touches on their inaugural play: Orson Welles’s modern-dress Julius Caesar, opening the following Thursday. A stroke of luck makes Richard catch the eye of Welles himself, and within minutes Richard has been given a small role in the play, which he has mere hours to learn. Within a couple of days, Richard is in the thick of the final stages of one of the century’s most exciting theatricals and has fallen desperately in love with a woman who has also caught Welles’s eye. It’s all paced at break-neck speed, with Kaplow whipping everyone who’s in the orbit of Welles—that cold-blooded, hot-tempered, and phenomenally gifted wunderkind only five years older than Richard—into a manic fury of creative euphoria and despair. By the time opening night comes around, it’s as though a year has passed, yet this is a tale that reads like the wind.
Joyful and alive, crackling with wonder.