By Beki Pineda
A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY. Written by Lucas Hnath; directed by Amanda Berg Wilson. Produced by The Catamounts (performed at Madelife, 2000 21st St.) through March 28. Tickets available at 720-468-0487 or thecatamounts.org/tickets.
Walt Disney: icon or tyrant—or both? That’s the question posed in this short play with the long title. Done as a true “reading” of a screenplay, complete with camera directions and scripts in notebooks, the four-person play explores the legacy and personality of Walt Disney. Paul Borrillo (who looks more like a younger Christopher Plummer than Walt Disney) takes on the difficult task of walking the fine line between bully and buffoon, falling more often to the bully side of that line. He is joined at the table reading by his brother Roy (played with meekness and later with quiet triumph by Mark Collins). They are joined by Walt’s natural daughter Diane and her husband Ron, portrayed by Lindsay Pierce and Jason Maxwell. Walt saves his worst vitriol for Ron, whom he considers to be an idiot of the highest order, but he doesn’t spare his brother/partner either.
Since this show professes to be about the death of Walt Disney—or how he imagines it’s going to be—nearly every scene begins with “Walt lights a cigarette.” Much time is spent on the inheritance plans for his “kingdom” and his hopes for the future. Disneyland, a huge success, contributed to Disney’s megalomania and his sense of invulnerability. His plans for Epcot in Florida clashed with those of his family. He wanted to create a “perfect” community, a town where everyone would live in harmony and peace. The others leaned more toward the theme-park motif. (After Walt’s real death, the plans for his community were scrapped and Walt Disney World was built instead, opening in 1971. It wasn’t until 1992 that the company inaugurated Celebration, Fla., based on some of Disney’s original ideas.) Of course, the rumor that Walt believed in cryogenics and had himself frozen to come back a second time cried out to be addressed … comically.
The use of “Cut to” as a camera direction for this supposed movie gets more and more frantic as the end approaches. In reality, if the camera cut as many times as was indicated, the viewer of this so-called movie would have a splitting headache and no idea of what was going on. But as a device to indicate Disney’s growing panic as the end comes closer, it is most effective.
The Madelife black box theater is an interesting spot to do a show. To get to it, you walk through a gallery of furniture, jewelry and various art forms that provide delight for the eyes. Even in the middle of the afternoon, the company was able to achieve a total blackout in the house—always a problem in buildings that were not constructed as theaters. I can see that this one could truly be a black box theater with seating variations to suit the production.
Catamounts pulls another one out of the bag to please their audiences.There’s just one more weekend to explore this new play and the space.
Wow factor: 8