All my life since I was in grade school, I believed that Norwegian lemmings committed mass suicide by throwing themselves off a cliff and into the ocean below. How did I know this? Hard to say exactly, but I suspect that the information came from the Disney Corporation and their wild life movies, which were well produced and fascinating to a young boy. I learned otherwise when I attended the opening of an absolutely brilliant production of Lucas Hnath’s scintillating play, A Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, now running at Odyssey Theatre.
Lucas Hnath is a playwright of unique originality. He added a coda onto Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House with A Doll’s House, Part 2. His 2019 play, Dana H., delved into his mother’s strife-filled life with a recording of her experiences that was lipped-sync live on stage by actress Deirdre O’Connell in a stunning performance. A Reading… is yet another piece of originality.
Keenly directed by Peter Richards, A Reading… is literally a staged reading with four actors in a room at a table with scripts in hand. Kevin Ashworth leads the reading as Walt Disney in a bravura performance as the chain-smoking, vodka swilling, pill-popping tycoon. At his left, Roy Disney (Thomas Piper) suffers abuse as he does his best to run the company. As written and played, Walt is a megalomaniac who abuses Roy, his daughter (Brittney Bertier), and her husband (Cory Washington). Roy tries hard to rein in Walt’s unfortunate notions such as insisting that his daughter name her son Walt, a notion she rigidly rejects.
Mr. Hnath’s play makes me reflect on Walt Disney in a different way; the Disney products– its cartoon films, live action movies, musical comedies, amusement parks all over the world and more; and the swallowing up of other companies, Pixar comes to mind. And then there are the labor problems, such as when the bedrock staff of the company went on strike for better wages and conditions. Walt worked hard to seem warm and avuncular, an image that most people came to love, but as the reading of the script continues and the play proceeds, Walt is presented as a sad, lonely character heading for death and clinging to the notion of cryogenesis as a pathway to immortality. Well, frozen embryos are a thing so…who knows?
A Reading…is handsomely staged with scenic design by David Offner; costume design by Kate Bergh; lighting design by Matt Richter, assisted by Hayden Kirschbaum; sound design by Jesse Mandapat; projection design by Nick Santiago; property design by Jenine MacDonald; Graphic design by Kiff Scholl, AFK Design. The stage is managed by Chloe Willey, assisted by Lyanne Low.
So DON’T MISS IT!
A Reading… produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners, and presented by Working Barn Productions; it runs through May 1, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm through May 1. This is a don’t-miss-it show.
A Reading…is a Visiting Production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Supulveda BLVD.Los Angeles, CA 90025.