Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When You Wish Upon A Scar

There are times when it seems absolutely impossible to get a piece of music out of one's head. In a recent Ask The Pilot column entitled When The Holidays Are Spent Aloft,'s aviation expert, Patrick Smith, recalled his Christmas experience one year during a layover in Ghana.
The Little Drummer Boy is, without argument, the most painful piece of music ever written. And at the Hans Cottage Botel they have chosen to make it the only -- only! -- song on their Christmastime tape loop. Over and over it plays, ceaselessly, day and night. I’m not sure who the artist is, but it’s an especially treacly version with lots of high notes to set one’s skull ringing.
‘Ba-ruppa-pum-pum; ruppa-pum-pum …’ as I hear it today and forever, that stammering chorus is like the thump-thump of chopper blades in the wounded mind of a Vietnam vet who Can’t Forget What He Saw. There I am, pinned down at the Botel bar, jittery and covered in sweat, my nails clattering against a bottle of Star lager while the infernal Drummer Boy warbles another ruppa-pum-pum through the buggy air."
My own musical nightmare was shorter and, if you can believe it, sickeningly sweeter. I once had the misfortune of being on the "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland when the boats stopped moving forward. As a result, I found myself marooned in an air-conditioned tunnel listening to a tape loop of that song -- yes, THAT SONG -- for 25 minutes! By the time I got out of that ride I was ready to strangle Goofy!

In 1968, when film critic Richard Schickel's book, The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art, and Commerce of Walt Disney was first published, it offered readers a surprising view at what happens behind the scenes in "the happiest place on earth." One time, when visiting the Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando with my father, I suggested that he buy souvenirs for his grandchildren on the way into the park in order to avoid the crush of people as they shopped for Disney memorabilia on their way out of the park.

My father didn't understand until I gently explained that, once inside the Magic Kingdom, the consumer is part of a captive audience. Clearance sales are anathema to Disney's bottom line.  Nothing is discounted.

* * * * * * * * *
Although several of my friends are strict Disney loyalists, I doubt they would enjoy Trevor Allen's cynical one-man show, Working For The Mouse, quite as much as I did. A prolific playwright who has had several plays staged in the Bay area (Tenders in the Fog, The Creature,  49 Miles, Chain Reactions, and Zoo Logic), Mr. Allen won A.C.T.'s "Write Like David Mamet" contest.  In addition to working on a book version of Working For The Mouse, Allen is also preparing Valley of Sand for its premiere at San Jose Rep.

Like many children, Trevor grew up with Disney's stars in his eyes. After his first trip to Disneyland, there was no question in his mind about where he wanted to work. Having spent much of his adolescence dreaming about becoming Peter Pan, he yearned to become one of the costumed characters working at Disneyland.

Trevor Allen

"Who could ask for anything more?" is the question asked by a naive new employee who feels honored just to be working at a Disney theme park. But once the Disney magic starts to wear off, reality bites down hard.

After a stint in Northern California working at California's Great America, Allen drove to Anaheim and auditioned for a job with the employer of his dreams. Once hired, he began to learn what life is like in the underbelly of "Mauschwitz."

When much of the hired help receives minimum wage (and is often asked to work "on call" shifts), life in the Magic Kingdom can prove to be exhausting. Making ends meet becomes increasingly difficult. Finding a decent roommate is often easier said than done.

Allen spent four years "under the fur," playing characters such as Pluto, Smee, and the Mad Hatter. Whether working breakfast crowds at the Disneyland Hotel or sweating profusely while roasting inside a character costume during a Southern California heat wave, he learned that what happens to the employees working in Disneyland is not the stuff little boys and girls dream about.

What most people don't understand is that being a theme park worker can become excruciatingly boring.  Allen was one of the few former employees to breach the code of Omerta that haunts those who are asked if they witnessed any inappropriate behavior while employed at a Disney park.

Due to a busy personal calendar, I was unable to catch a performance of Working For the Mouse until the tail end of its run at the Exit Theatre. Under Nancy Carlin's direction, Allen used his talent for impersonating character voices to solid effect (let's face it, the man has a wealth of good material to work with).

This was, however, a revival. I expect the exceptionally likable and highly energetic Mr. Allen will return to town for another string of performances (I'd happily see this show again). Although he identifies his target audience as "friends and foes of Disney,"  I suspect Trevor Allen will perform Working For The Mouse in Neverland before he's asked to do his show at The Walt Disney Family Museum.

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