A disconcertingly charming family of monsters

— REVIEW of ‘A Public Reading…’ | Witness

A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney | Review

Robert Reid | Witness
15 July, 2018

Robert Reid on MKA’s A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney

Family fun. Not really.

The Walt Disney you’ll encounter in MKA Theatre of New Writing’s latest production is a monster, carelessly destructive of his family, of his employees, of lemmings. Incredibly, the real life Disney was an even bigger monster: the play doesn’t really get too deeply into Uncle Walt’s anti-Semitism or sexism. Lucas Hnath’s text gives us the corporate monster, the ego monster, the family monster and MKA’s production paints him in lurid colours.

Three of the Manderson-Galvins sit on stage wearing ill-fitting Mickey Mouse masks. The eyeholes don’t quite find the eyes, and so instead are disturbingly blank patches of skin. They sit at a long table, so it feels part playreading, part corporate board meeting. The table sits behind or inside of a white blow-up bouncy castle with turrets and flags like the Disney Castle logo. The rest of the stage at the MC Showroom, what we can see of it, is black. Polished shiny black. As the play goes on and my eyes adjust to focus on the show, the two become indistinct. The castle, framing everything, seems to float as if it’s threatening to drift away, leaving only the frenzied Disney, his out-of-control ego and his beleaguered family.

Tobias Manderson-Galvin as Disney appears briefly in the wings as the show begins, then storms onto the stage, into the audience, to sit on one of us in the front row and read the screenplay. Walt, Close up on Walt, Walt, Cut to Walt, Walt. Walt looks good, Walt is good. Tobias turn to the audience member he’s sitting on and suggests she read along with him if she likes. That would have been interesting.

Hnath’s text is choppy, fast and rhythmical, with staccato punctuation and repetitions. As a dramaturgical device it feels a little dated, but it provides an excellent vehicle for Manderson-Galvin. He rants, he stalks, he shouts, he sings (sort of), giving a bravura performance without really losing the grin that is more Tobi than Disney. Which makes the monster likable.

I don’t want to like this monster, with the thick white and blue makeup that turns his head into the cryogenically-frozen horror of urban legend. I don’t much like his movies and I don’t much like the giant traditional fairytale-appropriating empire that was built around him.

Paired with Walt is his brother Roy, an unlikely Sancho Panza to Walt’s Don Quixote, played by Tobias’ real-life sister, Kerith. Their parents Lenore and Patrick Manderson-Galvin take the roles of Disney’s daughter and son in law. There’s something about watching a family play a family that adds, if not quite an extra layer of meaning, at least a confident familiarity with each other.

When Lenore as daughter Diane smiles at Tobias as Walt, there’s the added sense of a mother smiling at her son. Kerith as Roy argues with Tobias as Walt, and it might almost be brother and sister fighting, employing passive aggressive tactics maybe practiced over a lifetime. I might be reading into it, of course, but it’s hard not to see hints and reflections of their real-life family in their portrayal of the family of the monster. Each of the Manderson-Galvins is delightful in their own way. Together they make a charming family out of a terrible monster and his victims.

The show is a bit ropey but for me this was part of its fun. Cues might be being dropped (it’s hard to tell with Hnath’s text) and there are brief, awkward moments where they search for their place in the script. Props don’t all work: a Make It Rain Money gun fails to fire, forcing Tobias to throw handfuls of money at the audience. Which isn’t a terrible metaphor for how Hnath’s Disney solves problems – shouting at his brother, fix it, fix it, just fix it.

When the final moment of the show arrives, we as an audience are unsure it’s finished, even though Walt is dead, his head carved off and stuffed in a freezer, his dream of a perfect city reduced to another theme park by his brother and the Disney board members. None of this matters.

Contrasting the shiny shiny flooring and stylish lines of their costumes with the bumpy ride of the production reminds me of the devil-may-care indie theatre of the early to mid-2000s. All energy. Slick and not slick. Live the way early Oubykh Theatre was live, but stylish and deliberate.

I can’t speak for the show itself, but no lemmings were harmed in the production of this review.

A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath, play reading directed by Cara Dinley. Scenography Tobias Manderson-Galvin, score by Jules Pascoe. Performed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin, Kerith Manderson-Galvin, Lenore Manderson, Patrick Galvin and Leila Romiti. MKA at the MC Showroom as part of the Provocare festival.

Robert Reid is co-editor and co-founder of Witness and runs our educational resources. He is a playwright, director and academic. His award-winning plays have been produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company and his own independent companies. He is artistic director of the games-based performance company, Pop Up Playground, and his Platform Paper on theatre and digital marketing was published by Currency Press in 2011. He recently completed his PhD in Australian Theatre History.

A disconcertingly charming family of monsters