By Michael McKinlay (Midnight Productions)

Feb 2, 2000 at 4:00 am
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 was 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 and 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, to 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 the 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 was 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.