Magic. Joy. Joy. Walt Disney’s designs gave us all of these feelings and more. Working Barn Productions presents the West Coast premiere of what The New York Times calls “a dark, comedic inversion of Disney’s public persona” – the ambitious title A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney by Lucas Hnath (Broadway’s A Doll’s House, Part 2; Hillary and Clinton; Dana H). Peter Richards is directing a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, which opens March 26 for a six-week run through May 1.

Meet Walt Disney. He has a script he wants you to hear. It’s about Walt (it’s all about Walt), and how he’s all going to miss his family when he’s dead. You will miss him too. Walt is sure. It’s a play about egos and empires and about changing the world whether he wants to change it or not.

Richards first learned of the script when it was submitted to the Tides Foundation’s Venturous Theater Fund, for which he acts as an artistic consultant.

“The fund is set up to support games that are odd in form or risky in some way,” he explains. “This piece feels like the ‘unproduced reading’ of the title…like the audience is watching a group of actors sitting around a table reading Walt’s script in a rehearsal room. But as the piece progresses, the theatricality grows and the layers deepen.”

Ultimately, Hnath’s ferociously funny and highly meta storyline completely upends the public persona of the self-taught American folk hero, creator of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

“Walt wants to live forever,” Richards says. “He wants to control his legacy. But, in the end, those aspirations remain out of reach, and his attempts to shape his final narrative – write his own story, if you will – are kind of sad and most definitely funny. I don’t I’m not interested in demonizing him; I’m fascinated by his obsessions, as well as the way those closest to him – his brother, Roy; his daughter, Diane; and his son-in-law, Ronald Miller – manage their relationship with him.”

In the play, Walt’s character fights with his brother, has issues with his daughter, and dislikes his son-in-law—human issues that Hnath both learned from biographies and made up. Richards notes that “Hnath took a lot of liberties here. People shouldn’t assume everything is true.”

According to Hnath, “I wanted to make Walt both a person and this concept. It’s not an organic play. What’s dramatized is Walt Disney’s idea.”

A public reading of an unproduced script about Walt Disney’s death features Kevin Ashworth as Walt; Thomas Piper as Roy; Brittney Bertier as Diane; and Cory Washington as Ron.

The creative team includes set designer David Offner; costume designer Kate Bergh; lighting designer Matt Richter; sound designer Jesse Mandapat; projection designer Nick Santiago; property designer Jenine MacDonald; graphic designer Kiff Scholl, AFK Design; and casting directors Michael Donovan, CSA and Richie Ferris, CSA. Production Manager is Chloe Willey and Racquel Lehrman, Theater Planners produces for Working Barn Productions.

A public reading of an unproduced script about the death of Walt Disney premiered at New York’s Soho Playhouse in 2017, where Theater Mania called it “A bloody and often hilarious evening of theater” and Time Out New York l found “Pleasantly eerie and airtight… Nothing that has ever come out of the Magic Kingdom has been so lively.”

Lucas Hnath is a resident playwright with New Dramatists and his plays have been produced or developed at the Actors Theater of Louisville, Culture Project, Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theater and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, among others. Her play A Doll’s House, Part 2 premiered on Broadway in 2017 and received eight Tony nominations, including “Best Play” and an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for “Outstanding New Broadway Play”. Other plays include Hillary and Clinton, Dana H, The Christians, Red Speedo, Isaac’s Eye, Death Tax, and The Courtship of Anna Nicole Smith.

Peter Richards recently directed the adaptation of Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus’ acclaimed novel Crime and Punishment for Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, and the West Coast premiere of Please Excuse My Dear Kevin Armento’s Aunt Sally, the story of a forbidden love affair between a teacher and a student told through the student’s cell phone, also in Odyssey. Other directing credits include site-specific productions of Chekhov’s The Seagull and Shakespeare’s The Tempest on a Maine farm, a Julius Caesar staging with a masked Greek chorus, and critically acclaimed productions of the nominated drama. to Christopher Shinn’s Pulitzer Dying City; Annie Baker’s Obie-winning play The Aliens; and Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Wild Project in New York. Among his avant-garde theatrical projects are numerous shows with Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant (an ensemble of which he is a founding member), presented in New York at the Ohio Theater and the Bushwick Starr. Richards also directs educational theater projects at Bates College in Maine. He holds a master’s degree in acting from Harvard’s Institute of Advanced Theater Training and is a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab.

Performances of A Public Reading of an Unproduced Script on the Death of Walt Disney take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., from March 26 through May 1. There will be a preview on Friday, March 25 at 8 p.m. tickets are $30 (reserved seating) except the preview, which is $20. The Odyssey Theater is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. Parking is free in the onsite lot.

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