Disneyland is a magnet. I went there for the first time when the park was new and I was nine. I remember thinking that working at Disneyland must be the greatest thing a person could do. Playwright Trevor Allen (Lolita Roadtrip, The Creature, Tenders in the Fog) was also enchanted by the lure of Disneyland, but specifically he wanted to join the army of costumed performers who play characters from Disney feature films and animated shorts such as Goofy, a non-speaking role that requires the wearing of a full body suit costume, or ideally, Peter Pan, who wears a costume and speaks words with his own human face.
As a teenager, Mr. Allen had gotten summer employment at Great America as a costumed performer playing such characters as Huckleberry Hound and Captain Caveman. After graduating from Oak Grove High School in San Jose, he headed to Southern California to study theatre. He auditioned at Disney’s theme park, tenuously secured a position and continued on in the Mouse Empire in various roles for the next four years. He turned his experiences into a rollicking one-man show called Working for the Mouse, first performed at Impact Theatre in 2002 directed by Kent Nicholson. He revived the show in 2011 under the direction of Nancy Carlin and has been performing the show widely ever since.
Working for the Mouse is a stellar concoction crafted by a consummate performer. Mr. Allen renders dozens of characters shifting between them with practiced ease. On his knees, he gives us a gruff, essentially kindly dwarf who suits up as Donald Duck. A thirty-year Disney veteran who has seen it all, he was assigned as a “buddy” to show the young performer the ropes. A couple of loopy guys playing Peter Pan and Captain Hook lead Trevor astray into the forbidden bowels of the park. When he finally gets out of the sweltering Goofy costume to play the Mad Hatter, he promptly falls in love with the girl playing Alice…and on and on, incident after hilarious, often touching incident. This play is no standup routine, but a thorough piece of finally crafted theatre both in the writing and the playing.
Mr. Allen’s energy is astonishing; he holds nothing back in this virtuoso performance. Written in several dense sections or scenes, he pauses four or perhaps five times in the approximately seventy-five minutes of the show, goes upstage as the lights dim to swig water from a bottle, towel himself off, stretch, shake and loosen limbs and with a deep breath launch himself back into the fray.
It needs be mentioned that Cliff Caruthers’ sound design (assisted by Michael Kelly) does much to set and enhance the mood and the scene.
It occurred to me as I absorbed the show last night, that it is quite extraordinary for a playwright to perform this way. Working for the Mouse is an enacted memoir. Could Truman Capote have been any good at playing himself night after night in Tru? Maybe. Doubt it. But then, he didn’t write it. And Samuel Clemens didn’t write Mark Twain Tonight. I could see that sometime in the future, some other actor might bring Working for the Mouse to a future audience. Could happen. But, apropos of nothing, wouldn’t you love to have seen Shakespeare play Polonius?
Kudos to City Lights Theatre Company for bringing Mr. Allen and Working for the Mouse to San Jose. It has one more performance at City Lights on Sunday, May 31 at 7pm.