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WALT AND ROY

Joe read a review in the Hollywood Reporter of a Los Angeles production of this play concerning one dramatic night in the life of the Disney brothers – the night before they were going to ask bankers for a major loan to produce SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, the first full-length animated feature film. It was a make-or-break move for the Disneys, just as the film (called “Walt’s folly” by the industry and even by collaborators) would be.

The play presented a crazed, drunken, suicidal, gun-toting Walt, and his patient brother, the moneyman Roy, trying to keep his artist brother on-track, alive and in one piece for the next morning’s meeting.While somewhat over-written, the play told a fascinating story, and offered great roles for Joe (as Walt) and Dave (as Roy.)

The Company brought in St. Louis actor B Weller to direct, scheduled the show for the St. Marcus Theatre, and after the critical slings and arrows of DRACULA, were back on track with WALT AND ROY.

Audiences were just as fascinated with the story as the Company was, and, with author’s approval, some judicious script cuts helped the production realize its potential.


PLAY EXPLORES RELATIONSHIP OF DISNEY BORHTERS
By Judy Newmark
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WALT & ROY, the quirky little drama on stage at the St. Marcus Theatre, displays Midnight Productions at its best.

Maybe that’s because Michael McKinlay’s play explores a relationship between brothers. That’s sort of a specialty of Midnight co-founders Joe Hanrahan and David Wassilak, who were terrific as the James brothers in THE BALLAD OF JESSE JAMES, and who brought a sense of familial intimacy to the bums in WAITING FOR GODOT.

This time, the brothers are the Disneys. The play, which B. Weller directs, takes place the night before the brothers are to meet with bankers to try to get financing for Walt’s latest idea, a feature-length cartoon. Of course, we in the audience know that SNOW WHITE turned out to be a ground-breaking classic. But in the context of this play, it’s a miracle it ever was made.

As the lights go up on WALT & ROY, we see a man slumped at his desk with two items we don’t usually associate with the Magic Kingdom: a gun and an empty bottle of Jim Beam.

Gradually, we notice other details in the messy room – rough but recognizable cartoon sketches, a teddy bear and toy trains, an Oscar statuette. The set, which Wassilak designed, captures the odd juxtapositions that give the play its offbeat energy.

The man turns out to be Walt Disney (Hanrahan), a disconsolate success who can’t draw as well as the artists who work for him or run a business as well as his brother. He is the creative engine behind the whole enterprise – already a huge success – but his role is a little hard to pin down. Now, about to take a gamble that could destroy it all, he’s at his worst: melancholy, drunk, mean-spirited. Also, it’s the “dark and stormy night” of cliché, without phones or reliable lights. Nobody knows where he is.

That’s why his brother and business partner, Roy (Wassilak), comes to check on him. He can’t be looking forward to it, as Wassilak, with his pinched face and tense posture, makes clear from his entrance. Who could blame him? For the rest of the night, Walt taunts and threatens him, brings up old grievances, engages in childish games both familiar (checkers) and original (what’s in Mom’s grave, besides Mom?)

Roy takes it all. That’s his job. He keeps Walt in check so the Mouse can keep on making money. But maybe it’s more complicated than that. Maybe these brothers have figured out how to make their dysfunctional relationship function effectively after all.

Hanrahan takes on his juicy role with relish, storming around the stage, playing with his toys, snarling and yelling and chatting with edgy amiability. Wassilak, as a man who just wants things to be quiet and calm, has a tougher part. But it works; he maintains Roy’s dignity, even when he’s dressed in shorts, socks and old-fashioned garters. (Walt persuades him to take off his suit, soaked by the storm. Is he being considerate, or making his brother look foolish? Or both?) Maybe the silly costume gives him something to play off of.

Don’t let the Disney image confuse you; WALT & ROY is not for children. The play could be better if it were shorter, and, storm or no storm, too much action takes place in the dark. But it’s a real piece of drama, free of writerly ego-trips or “messages.” WALT & ROY is about nothing except its subject, and a fascinating subject it is.

MAGIC KINGDOM
by Sally Cragin
Riverfront Times

In the 1970s, a friend of mine committed unspeakable horrors at Disneyland during a school trip. He slipped off a car in the Jungle Book ride, and after a modest chase was strong-armed by Disney gendarmes, hustled along miles of underground hallways and detained in a windowless chamber for the duration. The message as clear – don’t defy the Mouse – and it’s one that would have inflamed and provoked the Walt Disney circa 1936 on view in Michael McKinlay’s inspired and entertaining WALT & ROY. Here the brothers Disney, Walt and Roy, battle it out one rainy night before meeting with bankers to discuss SNOW WHITE, also known as “Walt’s Folly,” an unprecedented full-length color cartoon.

Set in Walt’s office, which is littered with sketches of the dwarves, Snow White and Walt’s pride and joy, the lubriciously drawn Evil Queen, the Disney paterfamilias here is a young man. But he’s stark raving drunk, with a working train set, a gun and a Victrola, and he doesn’t hesitate to use any of them. Brother Roy, the responsible older sibling, is content to let baby brother razzle-dazzle the bankers while he moves in for the money. He’s a monument to the steady and mundane, and though he recognizes his brother’s genius (at the time the play was set, the well-staffed Disney studio had already won an Oscar), he’s weary of Walt, who, he suspects, has already slipped into madness. Will Walt drive Roy completely cuckoo, too, as he deprives him of his car keys, and even his suit, or will Roy triumph and get his brother shipshape in time for the meeting? Though the audience knows what happens – of course SNOW WHITE got made – there’s a surprising amount of tension in this two-character tour de force.

Joe Hanrahan plays manic Walt and David Wassilak the long-suffering Roy in Midnight Productions’ sterling version of this play, and they fit together like, well, t0 mix cartoon history, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. Hanrahan is a compact actor, considerably shorter than the gaunt and lugubrious Wassilak, and for the opening scene, they seem out of sync – Hanrahan’s motor turns at 78 rpm while Wassilak’s grinds at 33-and-a-third. (This does, however, seem more the flaw of the play, which is a touch overlong, with a meandering plot.) But before long they find their stride and ping their themes (Walt’s a nutty genius, Roy a straitlaced stiffy; both men feel underappreciated) like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. As a role, Walt is a challenge: How do you play a genius who’s slightly insane and drunk? Hanrahan fizzes with hostility toward his brother – he’s at the end of his rope but doesn’t know it, and his gusto is explosive and infectious. Wassilak’s Roy gets to play the second banana, but when it’s his turn to assert dignity, he’s mesmerizing. When Walt talks about how the world needs his imagination and how people need to be tapped “like maple trees,” Roy primly replies, “I am an oak,” and we believe him, though at this point the actor is reduced to wearing just shorts, undershirt and tissue-confetti on his face (Walt tried to shave him while he as passed out).

Kudos to both actors and director B. Weller for a smart production that uses the modest St. Marcus Theatre stage effectively (Roy is indeed the oak, rooted to a spot, while Walt pirouettes around him), but couldn’t someone have found genuine ‘30s office equipment? The chairs were straight from the ‘60s and the faux-oriental rug was jarringly contemporary, unlike the two actors, who performed with period screwball style – they were the real animated characters.

WALT & ROY
KDHX Radio

WALT & ROY, the untold story of the Disney brothers is the current offering of Midnight Productions, at the St. Marcus Theatre.

The play begins, late on a spring night in 1936 in Walt Disney’s office on the campus in Burbank. A torrential rain is pouring down, the phones are out and Walt has been spending he evening with a fifth of Jim Beam Bourbon. It is the ve of the Disney’s request for bank funding to produce SNOW WHITE, the first feature-length cartoon. Enter brother Roy who has come to see if Walt is all right. From the moment that Roy enters we are taken on a 2-hour plus ride on Walt’s personal roller coaster.

If the characterizations in this play are to be believed, Walt Disney was a man, like so many brilliant visionaries before him, who found solace in a bottle and suffered from some form of emotional confusion. Roy Disney, on the other hand, is characterized as the level headed, well-grounded not-a-creative-bone-in-his-body number cruncher who is concerned with his family, the bottom line and not losing his shirt in a business deal.

Joe Hanrahan, as Walt Disney, turns in an exhausting performance. His character’s energy level and lucidity never seem to wane or vary, even after the cnosumption of enough bourbon to put a 300-pound man flat on is back. Hanrahan presents a man who doesn’t want to be along but can’t seem to be amiable to those around him. The practical jokes he plays on Roy might be in jest but it is difficult to tell, as the character seems to be in a constant state of emotional flux.

David Wassilak, as Roy Disney, portrays a character who is the antithesis of his brother. He is calm, level headed and obviously cares for his family and the business. He takes his brother’s practical jokes and personal digs in stride without ever really becoming upset. Wassilak’s calm demeanor is a pleasant and refreshing contract to Hanrahan’s freneticism.

The sparse set with black walls suggested a more spacious room while the minimal unmatched furnishings did nothing to contrast to Walt’s power-happy character. The lighting was equally sparse and gave no suggestion as to time of day, even when dawn was breaking at the end of the play. Costumes, by Betsy Krausnick, were appropriate for the characters, although the suit that Roy briefly wears for his first entrance seemed a bit modern for 1936.

WALT & ROY provides an interesting insight into the men who created and built the Disney empire into what it is today.

 


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Revised: October, 2007
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