I felt like I was watching a ping pong match. Ever watch one? The audience’s heads whip to and fro, back and forth, watching the ball and holding their breath until it hits the ground. So is the evening at Single Carrot Theatre watching “The Death of Walt Disney.” Paul Diem skits around the stage in his wheelie chair and spins around and around the other characters. Between that and the staccato, incomplete sentence vibe of the wording- it is just like that ping pong match up.
Entering this event was like entering a Disney World attraction, there were “cast member” only signs (in Disney font), sound effects, lighting effects, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. Along the way are small depictions of mice? Lemmings? Rodents of some sort? And the last one is dead. Thus the narrative behind the play. Walt Disney is a legend. An icon. A man who could do no wrong, whose vision of utopia and perfection left millions of smiles in his wake. This play, does not hold up that image. So if you are a Disney junkie and don’t want to tarnish your gleaming images, skip this production.
The directors Genevieve De Mahy and Matthew Shea even state on the inside of the program, that they are “exposing the dark side of Hollywood’s elite and powerful,” and uncovering a man “whose ambitions have blinded him to his own narcissism.” My +1 and I, immediately upon exiting the play, googled whether or not Disney was cryogenically frozen. The answer, according to Snopes, is no. That this is an urban legend- but one that fits nicely into the plotline for this play.
The four actors are all sitting around a table with scripts in hand. And although Walt Disney, skillfully played by Paul Diem, has a script in front of him, he rarely makes use of it. He is animated and very well adapted to depict this iconic man, down to the signature mustache and hand gestures. I did not, at first, understand why there is such a long title- but sitting in this play for two minutes uncovers the depth. This is a reading. It is more a reading than a play. It is a stylized table read of Walt Disney making his own mythological movie of his last days on earth. And as epic as he is and knows he is, if he made the movie, he is also aware it shows his darker edges. Roy Disney (Mohammad R. Suaidi) and Walt are discussing their upcoming endeavors, everything from nature documentaries to the empiric building of Disney World. They work late nights, Walt chain smokes and pours vodka and pushes Roy to be his right hand man and fall guy. The other two characters are Walt’s Daughter (Meghan Stanton) and her husband (Eric Poch). They sit and watch for the first few scenes before becoming a part of the storyline. The Daughter asks dad to give her husband a job, and he counters with them naming their son after him. From there Walt’s lung cancer worsens, Disney faces setbacks in their construction, and lawsuits start to mount. All the characters find themselves shackled to the family business, unable to escape being a part of Walt’s vision.
Roy Disney is aptly depicted by Mohammad R. Suaidi, he loves his brother but doesn’t want to be married to the family company the way his brother is. He really plays this some depth and feeling, which is hard based on the words. The play is sincerely hard to follow. And if you break attention for a second (a sneeze), you are lost. Seriously, here is a sample of one piece of conversation so you can see what I am talking about: ROY: awful late. WA LT: Interior night. working, ROY: middle of the night, WA LT: thought you’d be asleep, ROY:having trouble, WA LT: sleeping, ROY: just can’t seem to, WA LT: Interior, work office. Follow me Roy.
That is the script, and Walt really reads all the “interior” words. In fact, he says “cut to” no less than 100 times during the course of this one-hour play.
Meghan Stanton as daughter was patient and tender in her father’s final moments, and cute a pie in that vintage dress, coifed hair, and saddle shoes. Alisa Glenn on costume design nailed her image perfectly. And Eric Poch did a nice job of playing the patsy- the jock who just wants to appease his father-in-law, even if he is incapable of filling his shoes.
The haze, and herbal cigarettes give the atmosphere a smoky lurky tone, but also induced a bit of coughing at points from audience members around me. The set design in attributed to five people in my program: Allison Bloechl, Cydney Cohn, Kristin Hessenauer, Sierra Ho, and Hayden Muller. The set is rather sparse, only glacier looking growth in the back that fit nicely with the story about Alaska and the Cryogenic freezing in the end. The metal table, chairs, etc. are all fairly stock.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Single Carrot has a habit of doing off-beat shows, and this is no exception. Go because, you have never seen anything like it. Go because, afterward you will google Disney facts and start discussing them with random people around you. Go because, our icons and leaders are not all mythological men- some are monsters, and that narrative needs to change. Go because, there are people out there who have negative opinions of positive legendary celebrities, and their stories are being told. (B)
Playing at Single Carrot Theatre Feb 2nd – Feb 25th. Run time one hour and five minutes with no intermission.