By Nicole Itkin

Is illusion always followed by disillusionment?

When does love– for something, for someone– become a curse?

What dream are we living in?

Burbank asks these questions and many more, as it tells the story of the 1941 strike at Disney’s headquarters.

There are strong performances by all three actors. And well-written lines throughout.

Each actor is perfectly cast: Betty Anne Dunbar (Kelley Lord): young and in-love with her life and her work, even if she doesn’t quite make enough money to eat more than an apple a day (…there’s a Disney reference if there ever was one). Art Babbitt (Zachary Speigel): a talented and fiercely independent animator who isn’t above much of anything when it comes to getting what he wants. Walt Disney himself (Cameron Darwin Bossert), hawkish and demanding about the work that he wants, but also truly in love (or so he says) with the work itself.

The dynamic between the three works perfectly, Disney and Babbitt butting heads in fights that rise to crescendos. Betty Anne watching on, comments slipping out despite her attempts at complacency. She initially tries to cover them up, but then finally she ends up joining the fray: an accidental casualty making it to the big stage.

Lord’s character walks the fine line of nervous and confident, and navigates it beautifully. Speigel’s character comes so close to getting what he wants, and that frustration, that sense of almost, almost, almost rings wildly true. Bossert’s character is a real presence, his shadow looming in the corner even when he leaves the room– frustration and passion entangled in the promises he tells himself and his employees.

Once the strike’s started, Babbitt and Disney both attempt to woo the audience to their side. Disney tells us that only the theater can show us reality, that only through what’s fake can we experience both reality and wonder again. He tells us about the guy in Kansas thinking about his taxes, who comes to the theater to see that movie with scenes where rain piles up on leaves, because he doesn’t see that in his day to day anymore. That, Disney insists, that’s why he’s so hard on people, so demanding and precise: because if something can’t be real, it must at least feel real. Babbitt counters: Did you know, he asks us, that they changed Disney’s name? That it used to be called the Disney Brothers Studio and now it’s just Walt Disney? That what Disney (and co) is doing is trying to make us see the human in what’s really the corporation?

Both shake their fist at us convincingly.

Sure, there were times that the staging felt confusing. With a space already rather small and intimate, staging entrances and exits up and through the audience felt unnecessarily close.

Further, the six minute short they played as advertisement for their streaming platform before the show started felt like a confusing addition: taking me out of the theater before I’d really even sat down.

But, overall, the show was full of strong performances, and many, many lines that I found thoughtful and impressive. Definitely a show worth seeing.

BURBANK stars Zachary Speigel, Kelley Lord, and Cameron Darwin Bossert. Directed by Thirdwing, the production features costumes by Yolanda Balaña, sound design by Deeba Montazeri, and scenic and lighting design by Clayton Mack.

 

THROUGH March 24.  THE WILD PROJECT.