A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

I’ve been a Disney kid since…..well since I was old enough to press ‘Play’ on a VCR. For me, and many, many people, Disney is not only a form of entertainment, it’s an identity. However, the name WALT DISNEY is also synonyms with magic, but also mystery. We associate him with his larger-than-life ideas, his willingness to push boundaries, and his drive to never, ever give up. Walt Disney, however, was also a human being, capable of great and terrible things at the same time, and this play really gets to the core of that idea. “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney”, presented by Outside the March and Soulpepper Theatre and written by Lucas Hnath, delves into the psyche of one of the most iconic figures in entertainment history, offering a thought-provoking exploration of mortality and legacy while blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

I have known the boldness and creativity of Soulpepper for a very long time, but recently I was introduced to Outside the March when they produced another intimate but powerful piece “No Save Points”. I was excited to see how these two create powerhouses collide to create what I was sure to be an incredible work of theatre. When you walked into the theatre itself, we saw a big red curtain, with the classic Disney cartoon “Steamboat Willie” projected onto it. We as the audience had to walk behind the curtain, where we stepped straight into Walt Disney’s office, complete with a Mickey Mouse telephone and a bar cart. I love the metaphor this presents, indicating to the audience that we will see a side of Disney that is normally kept hidden. 

This play is a fictionalized account of Walt Disney’s final chapter of life. The audience is essentially invited to watch a staged reading of Disney’s unproduced screenplay about his own life. Naturally, when a person tells a story about themselves, the line between truth and fiction begins to blur. We begin to dive deeper and deeper into Walt’s obsessions with being remembered, and leaving his legacy. This play talks about dark moments in Disney’s life, from entertaining dictators like Adolph Hitler at Disneyland to orchestrating a mass murder of lemmings when creating content for nature documentaries. Diego Matamoros who played Walt Disney did an excellent job of breathing life into the larger-than-life character, diving into his insecurities and dreams all in the same breath. 

Anand Rajaram has the great challenge of playing Walt’s brother Roy, who some would argue was the engine in the Disney Car. Roy was in charge of ensuring Disney World was built up the way Walt dreamed it up, but he most definitely had a challenging time working with his brother Walt. Ranjaram did a wonderful job in bringing a very human element to the play, as we see Walt deliberately hurt his brother Roy over, and over again. However, after seeing Rajaram as Waffles in un Mirvish’s Uncle Vanya recently, I wonder how much further the actor can take characters. In Uncle Vanya, he laughed and chuckled a lot to mask the pain and rage of his true feelings, and in Roy Disney, he did the same thing. I can tell that the man is a brilliant actor, but I wonder if he’s not tapping deeply enough. 

Katherine Cullen as Diane Disney, and Tony Ofori as her husband/Walt’s son-in-law are also interesting choices in this piece, especially because Walt’s wife Lillian is nowhere to be found, other than via a phone call we see partway through the piece. They represent the family and Walt’s impact on said family. Diane refers to her father’s anger, and adductions, and says that she doesn’t want to name any of her sons after her father, because it would be a constant reminder about the things he did, and does, to upset her. We learn later that her husband is used to doing a lot of Walt’s bidding, including the promise that the next son will be named Walt (which actually did happen). The performances overall were excellent, but I do with the dialogue overall was more snappy, considering the choppy nature of the dialogue. 


I also really enjoyed the set that was built for the show, including a rotating platform, giving the entire 360-degree audience a great view of all times. The dressing was top-notch, and the sound and lighting effects really added to the ambiance of the shoe. 

What elevates “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney” beyond just storytelling is its ability to spark conversation, and have the audience question what is real, and what is made up, especially by folding in interesting conspiracy theories into the production. By peeling back the layers of myth and legend surrounding Walt Disney, the play invites audiences to confront uncomfortable truths about mortality, ambition, and the elusive nature of artistic legacy.

It’s no wonder this show has been extended, but given the small audience size, I suspect they will sell out, so get your tickets now! 

Performances begin April 13

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts


[Review by Shan Fernando]