A conference room with slide projector. Two men, WALT DISNEY and his brother ROY read from a draft of WALT’s purported autobiographical script A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY. Two others, not identified until later, sit in chairs along the conference room wall.
The play was written in 2013 by Orlando native Lucas Hnath [nathe], known for his wildly original plays. It is currently onstage at the Odyssey Theatre.
WALT should resemble the icon himself, tall, mustachioed, self-aggrandizing and edgy. KEVIN ASHWORTH, for example, who is currently in the role at Odyssey, is ideal for this unique work focusing on WALT’s final years. These are not the creative, fulfilling ones of his earlier decades, in part because WALT is sick.
ROY has less to do; THOMAS PIPER at the Odyssey fulfills the role at a high level, conveying the sadness of a brother overpowered and underappreciated. BRITTNEY BERTIER as WALT’s DAUGHTER Diane Disney Miller (unnamed in the show) and CORY WASHINGTON as her husband RON MILLER play secondary roles critical to portraying WALT as a cruel and manipulative father and boss.
WALT walks purposefully around the conference table, popping pills, drinking vodka, coughing and expressing himself forcefully, employing repetition to reinforce his pronouncements. (NB: Director PETER RICHARDS at the Odyssey keeps action moving in a static set; projections on a screen and above the set help to organize and enhance the action.)
From WALT’s desire to build a housing development to the problematic (faked) but Academy Award-winning documentary White Wilderness, to cryonics, later-year obsessions dominate the dialogue. Staccato screenplay instructions give the impression of a spoken word performance, as well as a troubling character portrait. WALT feels unimportant people are a waste of space. His DAUGHTER accuses him of forcing people to do what he wants.
CLOSE ON WALT:
WALT regularly blows his nose, showing blood-covered handkerchiefs. (NB: These have been created in advance with red paint or ink and stuffed into WALT’s pockets for dramatic effect.) He gives the impression of a man determined not to accept mortality. Yet, as the spoiler alert-title reveals, in the end WALT dies.
END OF PLAY. END OF WALT.
A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney runs through Sunday, May 1 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. (north of Olympic). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets can be purchased here.
Interested in more from this playwright? Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 opens in April at the International City Theatre in Long Beach; click here for more information.