WALT AND ROY
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
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.
by Sally Cragin
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
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
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
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
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.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company