Finish Your Christmas Shopping with NRO

by Terry Teachout

Richard Linklater’s Me & Orson Welles, just out on home video, is a witty, ingenious, perfectly cast, brilliantly designed, and astonishingly well-informed backstage rom-com about the Mercury Theatre’s legendary 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar. It didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved when it was released, so catch up with it now and prepare to be both charmed and enthralled. I don’t know when I’ve seen a better movie about what it feels like to put on a play.Selena Hastings’s The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham(Random House) doesn’t contain all that much fresh dirt about the author of Of Human Bondage and Cakes and Ale, but Hastings is a very good writer who had unrestricted access to previously unknown primary-source material, and the result is a smart biography that portrays its not-very-nice subject with a welcome combination of candor and sympathy.In 1952, the First Drama Quartette — Charles Boyer, Cedric Hardwicke, Agnes Moorehead, and Charles Laughton — performed the “Don Juan in Hell” scene from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman with stupendous verve and elegance on Broadway and on tour. This celebrated performance was recorded in its entirety by Columbia Masterworks. Never previously reissued in any format, it’s now available as an mp3-only download for the unbelievable price of $1.98 (that’s from Amazon — iTunes charges twenty bucks). That’s what I call a deal.— Terry Teachout is the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. His latest book, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, is now out in paperback from Mariner Books.