Disney deviates from script

It’s a fully fledged play about an unproduced screenplay and it’s heading from New York to Circa.

A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney opens at Circa this week for the play’s second worldwide run.

But getting it off the ground was tricky.

Co-director Danny Mulheron first saw the play performed off- Broadway and wondered what to think of it.

Circa’s publicist struggled to think of a pithy slogan to promote it, with the title being such a mouthful. Veteran actor David McPhail considered rejecting the lead role, wondering whether he could remember his lines.

The play had disjointed dialogue, Mulheron said. Quick quips followed by quicker retorts. Characters. Finishing. Each. Other’s. Sentences.

But Mulheron pitched it, Circa agreed to run it and, to Mulheron’s delight, McPhail signed on as Walt Disney.

“It’s the role of his career,” Mulheron said.

Starring alongside McPhail are Wellington actors Jessica Robinson, Richard Falkner and Nick Blake.

Falkner said the play was about a giant, a man who “almost reshaped the American dream”.

In the play, Disney and his family discuss a screenplay he has written about his life and legacy.

It’s a play about a man who fancied himself a colossus bestride a narrow world, an empire builder always in control.

Mulheron said playwright Lucas Hnath saw parallels between Disney and King Cnut or Shakespeare’s King Lear.

“What he’s done is create an imaginary world with Walt Disney writing a script about what he wants to be remembered for,” Mulheron said. “What it cost him is what this is all about.”

In the play things never quite go to plan for Disney, who becomes increasingly frustrated as his onstage brother, daughter and son-in-law deviate from the script he has prepared.

McPhail said when Mulheron tracked him down and asked him to join the cast he had his doubts.

“I thought, ‘This was ridiculous’.”

McPhail said his character, though charming, was like a big child in a sandpit throwing his toys when others disagreed with his vision.

Jessica Robinson, who plays Disney’s daughter onstage, said McPhail was utterly charming in character.

“Even when he’s horrible you just want to hug him,” she said.

Asked whether the play would address the persistent urban legend about Disney being cryogenically frozen, Mulheron responded with a smirk.

“You can make your own mind up about that.” A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney, Circa Theatre, corner of Cable and Taranaki streets, August 30 till September 27, more information from circa.co.nz or the box office.

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– The Wellingtonian