Children all over the world yearn for Disneyland. What if you could visit and play there forever?
That’s what San Francisco playwright-actor Trevor Allen had in mind as a teenager when he decided to pursue his dream job – working as an actor performing cartoon characters at Disneyland.
Allen retells this story in his one-man play “Working for the Mouse!” which opened last weekend at LaVal’s Subterranean in Berkeley, presented by Impact Theater.
Allen’s 75-minute backstage story is based largely on the playwright’s own experience, though he says in the playbill that he has condensed the experience of others into his account.
Allen began working on this play in 1996 in Charlie Varon’s famed Bay Area solo performance class. Later that year it found life as an award-winning short piece at the San Francisco Fringe Festival.
The current, more elaborate, Berkeley production was developed with the help of, and directed by Kent Nicholson, former Associate Artistic Director of the San Francisco’s Magic Theater, and currently director of new play development at TheatreWorks.
“Working for the Mouse!” contains about six chapters, which jump back and forth in time. In the opener, Allen the performer tells the audience about growing up “in the shadow of the Matterhorn – the Matternhorn at Disneyland, that is, as a local child coming of age in Anaheim and loving the theme park.
In an early teenage job assignment, Allen eventually finds himself playing Pluto the dog, wandering Disneyland’s Main Street, available for photos and autographs with tourists.
As this character, however, he is not allowed to speak back to children who speak to him, since Pluto does not have “voice clearance.” Later Allen gets not just voice clearance, but face clearance (playing a character with no mask) as the Mad Hatter, after successfully imitating the voice of Ed Wynn at an audition.
`Allen’s story jumps around. He yearns to play Peter Pan. He lusts after the actress playing Alice in Wonderland. An accident at a park waterfall gets him reprimanded.
After hosting a blowout party with co-workers, his roommates throw him out. In the end, Allen is fired from his job, leaving Disneyland resentfully and taking his imaginary ball with him, as he puts it.
“Working for the Mouse!” seems like a potentially interesting story, but that potential hasn’t been realized in its current form.
The piece, as it stands, is more a series of anecdotes than a play. There’s no meaningful arc to the story. After half an hour, the bits feel interchangeable.
Allen’s solo character, despite all his time spent with the audience, reveals very little about who he is. Nor, by play’s end, has he learned much from all his effort and experience at Disneyland.
Under Nicholson’s busy direction, Allen turns in an enthusiastic effort as a performer. But he’s not a natural.
Nervous on Saturday night, he groped for lines at times, and hurried quickly through his emotional moments, making it hard for the audience to share his experience, or to even care about it.
Nor is Allen a strong enough parodist to make the shtick imitations of colorful backstage characters funny. The gruff, cynical actors backstage at Disneyland all tend to sound the same.
There’s a play here somewhere, but it hasn’t emerged yet. Allen’s dream as a boy was to grow up and play all day at Disneyland. As an adult, he still doesn’t seem to have a handle on that experience and what it meant to him.
When he gets there, he’ll be on the road to having his play.
John Angell Grant has written for “American Theatre,” “Backstage West,” “Callboard,” and many other publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax him at 1 (419) 781-2516.