Playwright Lucas Hnath has a way of turning things upside down, inside out, and in every direction gravity allows (or doesn’t). If you don’t believe that, just watch “Dana H” or “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” You’ll come away convinced. Hnath has plied his special skills to this tale of Walt Disney, the creator of “the Happiest Place on Earth.” It about Walt, the man, and how his family is going to miss him when he’s dead – along with everyone in this world, as Walt assures us. Hnath has painted a memorable picture of a consummate egotist as he faces his own end with a very ungraceful attitude. But Hnath is quick to add: “I wanted to make Walt simultaneously a person and this concept. It’s not a bio play. What’s being dramatized is the idea of Walt Disney.” To that end, the author has interwoven fact and fiction to create a concept that rises above mere personhood.
Walt Disney (Kevin Ashworth) is meeting with his inner circle, his brother Roy (Thomas Piper), his daughter Diane (Brittney Bertier), and his hated son-in-law Ron Miller (Cory Washington) in a play-within-a-play. As the quartet sit around the corporate table discussing the past, present, and future of Disney’s special spot, the dialog is ridiculous, sad, biting, and uproarious – all at the same time. First produced at New York City’s Soho Playhouse in 2017, A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY immediately attracted attention for its often hilarious but also unusual and even weird approach to the meta-story of Disney’s rise and end (abrupt in this piece).
Helmed by skilled Peter Richards, the play forces the audience to consider the issues that come with celebrity: how an individual’s public persona may reflect – or even nullify – who and what that famed person really is. Hnath calls this writing stereoscopic theatricality – a format which forces viewers to explore deeper questions about himself, his culture, death, legacy, ego, and the many other factors which shape perceptions. By cleverly positioning real three-dimensional people in what might be a two- or even four-dimensional universe, Hnath has developed a world that is neither real nor fake.
This reviewer was struck by another factor which seemed to flow from the arrangement of words and phrases. A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY almost seems to be structured like a musical composition. Hnath’s word-song is composed of a sequence of measures, and each measure consists of a given number of beats, unaccented or accented. There are even percussion instruments punctuating the movements (cut/cut/cut), with a repetitive musical theme holding the music together. Thus, rhythm, melody and harmony show repetition or variation, while words – and the people who say them – become instruments in the unexpected symphony.
Kudos to the actors who brought this unusual tale to life and to the talented creative team which set the backdrop for the action. The production will capture the fancy of true theater-goers who are looking for something interesting and different, a play which will make them laugh but also raise questions about many of the deeper issues humanity faces. The Odyssey Theatre adheres to all current COVID-19 guidelines.
A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY runs through May 1, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. This is a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets are $30. For information and reservations, go online.
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