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Brittany Shannon

Dr. Sharon Watkinson

THR 362 Dramatic Criticism
Play Analysis/Review
A New Take on Walt Disney
Road Less Traveled Productions is currently putting on the drama A Public Reading of
an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath. This play shows a
different side of the man, Walt Disney, which would not have been shown to the public. It
explores the relationships between him and his brother Roy, him and his daughter, and how he
used his son-in-law, Ron, to get what he wanted more than anything.
The theme in plays refers to the point or argument that the playwright is trying to make
through his or her characters. In other words, the theme is what exactly the main character should
learn by the end of the play. In the case of Walt, he is very power hungry throughout the play and
every decision that he tries to make is all centered around what he wants in the end, a city all his
own that would be a utopia where no one would ever die. At the first instance of the audience
seeing his hunger for power, we also see him getting sick by coughing up blood, which we can
infer will lead to his death. He is never shown to the public as the power hungry monster that he
seems to be because he always has someone, either his brother Roy or his son-in-law, Ron, to
take the blame for any incidents that might occur along the way. It is very significant for the
theme of this play to be about power and the problems that come with trying to attain it.
The play started out as if the characters were all in an office about to read through the
screenplay about Walt. They start to assemble slowly and the last one to enter is Walt, who is the
center of attention as soon as he enters from the back of the theatre. He entertains the audience

with some magic to show how he is viewed in the public eye and then starts talking about how
this is a reading of a screenplay that is all about him. Each scene goes through a time in Walts
career that is very important. It starts with the nature film White Wilderness and the myth (which
to Walt was true because he has seen pictures) that lemmings commit mass suicide by hurling
themselves off of cliffs. This created a controversy that Roy took the blame for. Walt gets sick
early in the play and it becomes hard for him to fight for what he wants by himself, so he has
Roy to stick up for his desires. The play also mentions the making of Disneyland and goes deep
into his want for a utopian city that turns into building Disneyworld. Roy does not fight the board
for Walt to have his own city inside the theme park as Walt wanted and that forces him to bring
Ron into the picture. Bringing in Ron also caused the controversy that Walt wanted his company
to run into the ground when he was finally gone. In the end Walt gets what he has been wanting
the entire play, to freeze his head so that in the future he can be brought back to life and never die
so he can finally build his perfect utopia. The conclusion of this play has to end in Walt Disneys
death because that is the whole reason behind both the play and the screenplay within it, to
capture the true essence of his death.
The way the script is written it would not seem very logical from a readers perspective,
but seeing and hearing the show being performed you would understand that, being a screenplay,
Walt saying Cut to as many times as he does makes sense. When he says Cut to it is
usually meant to cut to a different perspective within a movie, such as a close-up or a master
shot, and does so at the most dramatic moments. It was actually very interesting the way they did
this and held my attention well because I could imagine the change of the shot that would
happen. It made sense within the logic of the play. The playwrights perspective about Walt is
shown through his hunger for power and his absolute need to attain everything that he wants.

The other three characters in this play are Roy, Walts brother, Ron, his son-in-law, and
his daughter, who is married to Ron and who remains unnamed within the play. Roy is seen in
the public eye as the one who is to blame for anything incriminating that Walt may decide, but in
this play he is the one that willingly takes the blame as to not make the face of the company look
bad. His goal in the beginning is to help his brother achieve the dreams that he wants, but after
looking into the probability of actually building his own utopia, his goal turns into trying to
persuade Walt to be more practical. He is unable to actually achieve this goal because Walt is so
stubborn and willing to do anything to attain his desires. Ron is very eager to learn the family
business and is a huge fan of Walts and his wife is not as fond of him. Rons goal is not to take
over the company, but just to be a part of it so that he can provide for the family that he and his
wife are building together. Walt even takes him under his wing and shows him the ropes, granted
he does that for selfish reasons, Ron still achieves his goal. The daughter is the most minor
character and her goal seems to be to try and love her father even though he is not a good person
to her. She is able to achieve this because she purposely searches him out at a secret place to
make sure that his sickness isnt getting the best of them and tells the rest of the family because
she does care deep down.
All of these characters, including Walt himself, are all believable as human beings and are
also relatable. Many people can relate to the person who just wants to get everything that he or
she wants despite the practicality of some things. Numerous people have taken the blame for
things that are not necessarily their fault, but did so in protecting someone or something that they
love. There are many individuals who would want to be hired by their successful father-in-law, in
hopes that they are able to get along well and actually like each other as family members. And
there are a number of daughters who cannot look up to their father, or who never had their own

father around to be a dad to them. These are all the aspects that can be seen to the audience and
can be related to and believed. These aspects make them three-dimensional and the play achieved
that through the playwright and the directing of the actors to push to those outer emotions that
people try so hard not to go to.
The dialogue of this script is very choppy and cut up, but for the reason that it is
supposed to be written to be most near a screenplay. I have not seen a real screenplay script, but
through the dialogue was able to picture the play as though it were a movie and the cut to
different shots within it. The characters are all able to voice their opinions about things in one
way or another and the only person that ever loses his voice completely is Ron, because his
eagerness to be a part of Walts company hinders what he can see as impractical and
unattainable. Roys voice is lost in the beginning, but he is able to gain it back and stand up for
himself as an individual, which leads to Ron becoming Walts right hand man.
With the dialogue written supposing to be a screenplay it is easy to imagine a scene
taking place before your eyes even though the actors are sitting around a table, but there is at
least one instant where the daughter visits Walt Disney that they are standing in front of the table
and it feels like it is a part of the movie being acted before your eyes. Although he is not actually
in a hospital bed like the screenplay suggests, the fact that they are side by side and you cannot
see the other actors behind them gives off that feeling that it is a movie happening before you.
Even with most action happening as everyone is sitting around a table, the actors movements
and performances all seemed very natural and convincing. Each actor had a really good
connection with Robert Rutland, the actor who portrayed Walt, but the best connection in this
production was between him and Gerry Maher, the actor who portrayed Roy. They had perfect

timing with each other, the rhythm was always spot on and their connection was just
This show was directed by Niagara Universitys own Katie Mallinson who did a great job
at showing what it was about and what was so important about Walt and his screenplay. Katie
focused a lot of the show around Walt and his desire for power and it shows by making him the
center of attention. Walts need for power is demonstrated by putting him at the head of the table
for the reading of the screenplay. This makes for a perfect pictorial effect showing from the head
of the chair, Walts, down the line to his daughters the position of power. It seems as if this
production is most treated as modernism which is when theatre is seen as detached from life so
that life can be reflected on critically. This production makes the audience reflect on the
decisions that Walt makes and look at what he could have done differently to maybe save
himself, or his relationships with others. The emphasis of this production is to reflect on how just
one individuals decisions can affect everyone around that person.
Walking into the theatre you can tell right away that the show is going to be about Walt
Disney, because behind the table was a huge film reel that has been seen in many commercials
for Disney originals. It helped pull together not only that the show is to focus on Walt, but also
that it is a reading for a screenplay which would be meant to be seen rather than heard. The
costumes fit the characters for the purpose of meeting to read a screenplay because they were all
dressed very business-like. The lighting was able to enhance the production by notifying when
scenes were changed (along with Walt also mention what scene in the screenplay they are
moving on to) and also to put focus on the characters that were involved with the scene. The
music was incorporated mostly when dramatic conflict was arising and Walt wanted to run away

from it, and did so by turning on music. It was interesting to see music incorporated into a show
this way.
This has been one of my favorite shows that I have seen in Buffalo thus far, not only
because the play had interested me in a way that some dont but because some parts of the
production I have not seen put into action before. The actors were all very good and were able to
communicate their relationships well through their action as well as the words. The whole design
aspect was interesting and helped keep focus to the stage and the actors.

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