Staged play readings have become popular in South Florida, thanks to the success of the Jan McArt New Play Reading Series at Lynn University in Boca Raton and the Theatre League’s summer festival of weekly readings.
But, make no mistakes, Lucas Hnath’s “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,” is not a work in progress and Thinking Cap Theatre’s production, opening this weekend, is not a staged reading.
“It’s a full blown production,” promised director Mark Duncan. “One of our concerns is the name might turn somebody off who thinks it’s just a reading.”
It’s perhaps no accident that Hnath, whom Duncan regards as one of hottest young playwrights today, chose the iconic animator and filmmaker as a subject. The 37-year-old grew up in Orlando.
In Hnath’s “darkly comic” examination of ego, Disney gathers together his brother Roy, daughter and son-in-law to read them his latest screenplay.
“He’s trying to write the ending of his own story,” explained Duncan, “and battling against forces to make sure it goes his way. But, throughout the play, you start to see things that don’t fit and he tries to cut them out. It’s the struggle of writing your own legacy.”
Hnath portrays Disney as a sort of King Lear. His struggles and how his decisions and inability to control the circumstances around him affect the entire family.
Sound a little complicated? Don’t forget that the play starts out with actors reading the play about Disney writing a screenplay about the end of his life. Throughout, the actors morph into their roles and back in scenes laced with Hnath’s quirky and suggestive dialogue. At times, Hnath’s writing is reminiscent of Shakespeare and then David Mamet and then Harold Pinter.
“He’s gotten the reputation for making it hard on the actors and director. He gives them a puzzle to be figured out. He starts with the words, but that’s the trap. There are no stage directions,” said Duncan.
He is also quick to remind audiences that the scripts the actors carry around are just props.
The company includes four accomplished actors: Peter Galman as Walt Disney; Jim Gibbons as Roy Disney; Gretchen Porro as Diane Disney Miller; and Alex Alvarez as son-in-law Ron Miller.
“It’s a Thinking Cap kind of piece, that’s for sure,” Duncan said.
Thinking Cap Theatre presents Lucas Hnath’s “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney,” Sept. 16 – Oct. 2. Performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Tickets are $35 at ThinkingCapTheatre.com.