If the art world can include a zone called "primitive," then so can theater. At least that's the only place to position performer-writer Francis Creighton on the theater spectrum.
How else to label a man who asks audience members from the stage before the show where they heard about his two pieces, "Mrs. Disney" (under review) and "Zero Mostel," alternating Sundays at the Lionstar Theatre? Or who then runs out of the theater to gather up his props, which include stuffed animal puppets (a pig, a rabbit and a colt) and slightly dog-eared poster props? Or who returns and announces that "Mrs. Disney" has been permitted to run by the Walt Disney Co. and has the endorsement of veteran Disney actor Dean Jones?
And we haven't started with the show, which was performed Sunday by Creighton and two actors, Bianka Marie and Hollie Hummel, whom he acknowledged had come into the show at the last minute. That's why the women were on script, but that didn't explain why Creighton, who wrote and has been playing this for some time, was on script, as well.
Of course, there's a lot to memorize here: It's a nonstop, breathless, curiously eccentric 70-minute capsule biography of Walt, sometimes told through the perspective of Mrs. Disney (whom Marie plays like a slightly hysteric, even vengeful ingenue).
The dominant perspective is Walt's, as Creighton sees it, while the tale jumps around from such lesser-known aspects of his life as his stint as a World War I medic to the battle by Mrs. Disney after Walt's death against hostile takeover tactics by the likes of Kirk Kerkorian and Ivan Boesky.
Creighton's Disney is sometimes unsure of his own talent (on a New York to L.A. train trip, he hears the engine chanting back to him, "What will you do?") and seems to be always at battle with something or someone. He begins as a liberal artist and ends as right-wing critic of communism who claims that "my greatest creation was Ronald Reagan for governor of California."
The storytelling rambles endlessly, and Creighton's punctuation with songs is consistently ill-timed, off-key and a tad strange. Trained as an actor in El Teatro Campesino, the theater wing of Cesar Chavez's United Farm Workers movement, Creighton seems to both mock and slightly admire Walt's ultraconservative politics. He dwells more on the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings than on Walt's animation work. (He never mentions the movies, such as "Fantasia," "Dumbo," Sleeping Beauty," "Song of the South" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" by title.) Creighton doesn't so much act as opine, mostly behind a lectern, while his puppetry needs some serious brushing up.
In a 10-minute post-performance monologue that begins immediately on the heels of the show, he criticizes previous plays and biographies on Walt. This requires nerve since Creighton is hardly a reliable narrator. One critical measure is his cursory mention of Walt's best friend and crucial animator-partner, Ub Iwerks, who is both the creator of Mickey Mouse and the more imaginative of the pair in terms of animation art.
Iwerks, Creighton falsely says, never saw Walt again after a particular personal embarrassment. The pair did have a falling-out but reunited later when Iwerks played key roles for many years at Disney's studio.
This wouldn't usually be worth detailing, but "Mrs. Disney" goes in for such minutiae, and if it gets this wrong, how much else is right? Primitive theater is what it is, and "Mrs. Disney" is as handmade--and flawed--as any man can make it.
"Mrs. Disney," Lionstar Theatre, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Sundays, 3 p.m. (alternates with "Zero Mostel"). Runs indefinitely. Donation. (818) 346-6277.