BWW Reviews: A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY with The Catamounts
I once worked with a girl who claimed she was a distant relative of Walt Disney. That's about the extent I knew of the tycoon's personal life, aside from his cheery commercial identity. That, and apparently his head is frozen somewhere.
The Catamounts (of Boulder) are providing a broader perspective with Lucas Hnath's A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay Based on the Death of Walt Disney. And it's exactly what it seems...kind of.
The performance space is a departure from The Cats' usual haunt at the Dairy Center. This time, they're tucked in a black box theater at the back of the hip Boulder craft retailer madelife.
Like any public reading, the set consists of nothing more than a table with 4 chairs, adorned with the usual accessories--tissues, water pitchers, cigarettes, a bottle of Vodka. Behind it sits Mr. Disney himself, and he's going to read to you a screenplay he's seemingly written about his incredible life, with a few appearances from his family members. You're going to hear about his start in animal documentaries (cut to suicidal lemmings) and how he created his theme parks. But really only what he thinks was important.
If you're unfamiliar with how public readings work or how screenplays are written, the style might take you a bit to grasp. (Luckily, they provided a cheat-sheet in the program.) The 70-minute piece moves fast, as it should, and your mind will work out the visuals in no time. I particular loved what mine did with the "close on" moments.
Artistic director Amanda Berg Wilson skillfully leads a terrific cast featuring Paul Borrillo as Walt Disney, Mark Collins as Roy Disney, Lindsey Pierce as Walt's daughter and Jason Maxwell as her husband, Ron.
Borrillo, complete with Uncle Walt's signature 'stache, takes the audience on a passionate rollercoaster ride. He doesn't waste any time trying to be the Disney everyone knew. He plays him like a headstrong businessman, threatening at times.
Collins plays Walt's brother Roy with sophistication, trying to keep him grounded at points while stepping aside to avoid his indomitable ego. Pierce gives heart to his disconnected daughter (we can assume Diane, who died just months after this piece was produced Off-Broadway in 2013). You can tell she's over his conniving. As her yes-man husband, Ron, Maxwell is a comical delight.
It's safe to accept the reading is taking place in modern times because the actors occasionally take out their cell phones, sometimes using them to casually add a soundtrack to the scene. However, Walt is clearly playing himself...right? He's reading the stage directions as himself, even winking at moments. He also seems aware of his certain demise, occasionally jabbing at an interest in cryonics (freezing himself).
But where/how this reading is taking place is only part of what makes this piece absorbing. Disney is so wrapped up in his own self-worth that it eventually overtakes him. He wholeheartedly believes nothing can continue after his death, and he must freeze his head to come back later to continue his empire. Really, though.
But even Walt Disney is no more immortal than the rest of us.
A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay Based on the Death of Walt Disney plays now through March 28 at Boulder's madelife (2000 21st St). For tickets and information on special event performances, visit www.thecatamounts.org or call (720)468-0487. (I recommend attending on a night where they provide libations.)