The Death of Walt Disney critiques his legacy

By CLAIRE BEAVER | February 15, 2018

“It’s a Small World” has never been creepier. A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About The Death of Walt Disney at the Single Carrot Theatre is playing from Feb. 2 to Feb. 25, and it’s everything your childhood nightmares are made of — maybe your current nightmares too. 

The approximately 90-minute show depicts the darker side of a publicly beloved American icon and his eventual demise, drawing eerie comparisons to the world we live in today.

The first thing you notice upon arrival is the presence of a man, perfectly coiffed, wandering around the lobby. He’s got a smile plastered to his face and greets some of the audience members. This is Walt Disney (Paul Diem), and it begins the show.

As Walt Disney announced that the show was beginning and the ushers lead us through a dark tunnel with mice drawings covering the black walls, I couldn’t help but worry about what I had signed up for. Was this going to be immersive? Or worse, would I be picked out of the crowd to answer a question?

The play is performed as the reading of a screenplay by Disney himself. I struggled to understand the reasoning behind writing the play in this format, but I suppose Disney himself was one to break from tradition, and, in exploring this unique form, Lucas Hnath tried to imitate that. 

To fully comprehend the show, you must abandon any notions you have about traditional theatre and enter the ice box or the set in which this production takes place.

There are four actors in total, and all of them, besides Disney, were sitting on the flat stage at a boardroom table as we entered and remained there throughout the play. Much to my relief, there was minimal audience interaction from then on.

Walt controls the initial announcements with a tiny remote he points at the ceiling, rewinding and cutting and fast-forwarding, thus setting the theme of the show.

Walt Disney is portrayed by Diem as a go-lucky narcissist with sadistic tendencies. As soon as Walt stops addressing the audience and talks to his brother, Roy (Mohammad R. Suaidi), the illusion of the perfect Walt is shattered. 

Walt takes pleasure in the utter control he holds over not only his brother but also anyone he interacts with or speaks about during the show.

Roy is a likeable character, a foil to Walt. He is relatable. He does his best to placate his brother and give him what he wants; he often comes off as weak and powerless. He gives in to Walt almost immediately, even assuming the blame for Walt’s mistakes. 

Suaidi gives the most convincing performance of all as Roy; the audience physically shrinks every time he lets Walt get away with abusing him further. The presence of the band-aid on his forehead from getting pelted by Walt’s Oscar in a fit of rage perfectly resembles the character’s simultaneous struggle to protect his brother and failure to stand up for himself.

All of the chaos caused by Disney’s yelling and pacing and incessant smoking is almost enough to make you miss the fact that the other characters never move from their chairs; they are handcuffed to the table. 

Nearly more impressive is the fact that two characters, Disney’s daughter (Meghan Stanton) and her husband Ron Miller (Eric Poch), don’t even speak until the fifth scene. They simply sit and react until Disney finally addresses them.

Stanton and Poch don’t get their fair chance to shine due to their limited dialogue. However, something that I found interesting was that the character with the least amount of dialogue was the sole woman in the cast. 

Is this to pay homage to Walt Disney’s dismissal of women as inferior and another dig at his underlying evil, or is it an examination of modern theatre’s under-representation of women? In a similar vein, we never hear her name. In the playbill, she is listed solely as “Daughter.”

Walt’s deterioration throughout the show almost comes as a relief. To those characters close to Disney, it certainly does. Roy physically relaxes when Disney rants about how he is dying. 

Hnath plays into the conspiracy theory that Disney’s head is frozen somewhere and rationalizes it through Disney’s narcissism and utter belief that he is the greatest creative mind of all time.

“What’s the point if you’re not one of the most important people that’s ever lived?” Walt shouts at Roy. 

This quote sounds like something you would hear out of the mouth of certain world leaders today, yet somehow it resonates with you personally. Doesn’t everybody fear being forgotten?

This is why, despite all that is bad about Disney’s character, you can’t hate him. You can’t hate this despicable man. Why? Because he just wants what we all want. Love. Adoration. The chance to be phenomenal.

The show wraps up leaving you uncomfortable, vulnerable and a little disgusted, though at what element exactly you can’t be sure. That’s why you should see it. 

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