Cocaine, Violence, an Orgy and Other Tales of Playing Pluto at Disneyland

Trevor Allen
Trevor Allen
Photo by Kevin Berne

As the title of his one-man show Working for the Mouse suggests, Trevor Allen has a history with Disney. He played several costumed characters at Disneyland for four years, a time he revisits in his teen-to-adult journey about the often unhappy moments of being employed at the Happiest Place on Earth, now running at Hollywood's Asylum Lab.

A Bay Area actor and playwright, Allen was raised in San Jose loving all things Disney. “It was kind of like a religion in our family,” he says on the phone from his home in Vallejo. “We made the pilgrimage down to Disneyland at least once a year. It was like going to Mecca.”

Allen wanted to be a part of the fantasy. So in 1988, he moved to L.A. and went to a cattle-call audition. He was hired to play Pluto part time — “casual seasonal pageant helper” in Disney language — while studying theater at UCLA, where one of his teachers was Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch fame.

Allen was a naïve, innocent 18-year-old working with a randy group of rookies and lifers. One such veteran was a curmudgeonly little person who played Donald Duck and called Disneyland “Moushvitz.” (In the show, Allen has him sounding like Burgess Meredith in Rocky.) He took the newbie under his furry wing and indoctrinated him in a few unofficial park rules: “Never let them get behind you,” “never stand underneath direct sunlight” and “watch your ass.”

As one would imagine, walking around as a 6-foot dog at the Taj Mahal for kids has its occupational hazards, mostly being punched and poked by toddlers wise enough to know who’s really inside the suit, and having to answer the most commonly asked question: Is it hot in there? “If anybody were to stop and think about it,” says Allen, “You’re basically wearing a sleeping bag. It’s 110 degrees. Of course it’s hot!”

Allen also had to contend with the loneliness of working holidays (though grad night, when the park is open 24 hours, was the worst) and the heartbreak of interacting with terminally ill children from the Make-a-Wish Foundation (rule number four: never get emotionally attached). “They would write to the characters, and then we’d hear that months or years later, they had passed away,” says Allen.

But Allen flashes back to moments of fun and even debauchery, too, like the beach party where he witnessed his cast mates who played Robin Hood, Pinocchio, Dumbo, the seven dwarves and three little pigs smoking pot, doing coke lines and having an orgy. And then there was the time he unwittingly ate a pot brownie while working as the Mad Hatter (cue Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”), which Allen reenacts in a hilarious scene slightly reminiscent of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd’s mushroom-fueled trip to Cirque du Soleil from Knocked Up.

Allen inhabited some 20 characters during his tenure at the mouse house. Ultimately, he wanted to be Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. “He’s the embodiment of innocence, childhood enthusiasm and literally magic,” says Allen. But he was considered “too tanned” for that role. Still, Allen loved playing the buck-toothed Mad Hatter in the Alice in Wonderland unit and doing a spot-on impersonation of Ed Wynn, the actor from the 1951 animated feature — plus, he had the hots for Alice.

“It was like doing street theater and improv,” recalls Allen. “I got to interact with people, joke around with them and make fun of them. It was a license to play.”

After staging the show in San Francisco in 1996 and going through various incarnations, Allen is finally bringing his play to L.A. for the first time. What took him so long? “Fear,” admits Allen. “I know L.A. audiences. They can be very cynical, cold and aloof. But they can also embrace the joke. A lot of people in the industry are in on the joke. They know how wonderful Disney is, and they know the other side of Disney.”

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Allen swears he doesn’t suffer from amusement-park PTSD, and says he doesn’t want to steer people away from the Magic Kingdom experience. But after hanging up his costumes in 1991, Allen say he’s returned to Disneyland only once, and doesn’t plan on going back.

“Part of why I do the show is to talk about what Disney meant for me at the time,” says Allen. “That’s no longer the case. I don’t really feel like paying $99 to go the park for one day knowing the guy in the Mickey costume has been working 12 hours. I still love the magic. There’s a certain magic in all of us, and Disney taps into that. But they co-opt it, commodify it and sell it back to people. It’s that thing of once you’ve been shown the magic trick, it’s not magic anymore.”

Working for the Mouse at Asylum Lab, 1078 Lillian Way; through April 19. (323) 962-1632, brownpapertickets.com.


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