by John Kennedy Toole
Adapted for the stage by Tom Key, Aug 2010
In the 5th anniversary year of Hurricane Katrina, Tom Key and Theatrical Outfit stage a ‘home-cooked meal’ of 1960s New Orleans culture
From August 11 – September 5, 2010, Theatrical Outfit will present the world premiere of Tom Key’s stage adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Ever since becoming a 1980 publishing phenomenon and winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Toole’s grand farce, set in 1960s New Orleans, has enticed playwrights and filmmakers alike, but securing the rights to adapt the work has been a rare, much-coveted occurrence.
In the fall of 2008, Theatrical Outfit’s Executive Artistic Director, Tom Key, received an unexpected phone call from the book’s agent, who offered him the rights for a limited time. No stranger to adapting literary works to the stage, Key has enjoyed a successful string of adaptations, including Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Seminar and The Moviegoer, John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress, a Reader's Theater extraction of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory (which will be revived at Theatrical Outfit, December 2010). Of the initial conversation Key recalls, “I was ecstatic. My antennae are always up for rich dialogue, which is the best soil for translating a piece to the stage, and A Confederacy of Dunces is so full of truth and brilliance and hilarity—there’s almost a comic button at the end of every scene.”
Taking its title from a work by Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”), A Confederacy of Dunces chronicles the extravagantly colorful, eccentric world of one Ignatius J. Reilly, perhaps one of literature’s most enduringly rendered anti-heroes. A lumbering, loutish mountain of a man, Ignatius carries a volcanic vitriol for the modern era and is ever at the eruption point; with abandon, he spouts and spews his disdain of the social, racial, economic and religious states of contemporary America. When Ignatius does venture past Constantinople Street, he is forced to function in a culture he loathes, much like his oft-quoted idol, Roman philosopher Boethius. The ensuing string of jobs and outlandish events create a masterful portrait of a modern-day prophet bellowing in the wilderness. From the get-go, Ignatius is embroiled in a madcap misadventure that involves a lute string, a near-riot, and a rickety but lucky escape from the cops. Soon the seductive, seedy side of New Orleans itself joins a carnival cast of characters ranging from hapless Keystonian police officer Mancuso and cool-jive, street-smart Jones to porno-peddling barkeep Lana Lee and muscatel-swilling, bowling addict Santa Battaglia.
While the work is marked by inspired humor and biting satire, it also contains a pathos and profundity that keep its characters from becoming caricatures. Of Ignatius, Tom Key says, “He is genius with his verbiage, but he’s also disconnected from reality. Ignatius is presented in such a way that he’s almost impossible to like, but he so exposes the chronic hypocrisy that exists in the country that we have to pull for him…We want our geniuses to be corporate and well-adapted, so if we cast off the Reillys from our lives—our sometimes off-putting, unchecked natural human impulses—we’re the poorer for it as a society.”
Theatrical Outfit’s production of A Confederacy of Dunces will be directed by Richard Garner, Co-founder and Producing Artistic Director of the acclaimed theater Georgia Shakespeare Festival. Because of his long experience with mounting Shakespearean plays, Garner was Key’s immediate choice as director. Explains Key, “As Walker Percy has noted, A Confederacy of Dunces is a commedia ‘of Falstaffian proportions,’ and Richard, through his breathtaking imagination, knows how to capitalize on the strengths of live theater to deliver great literature to modern audiences in explosive, surprisingly complex ways.”
Of the challenges presented by the extensive New Orleans locations and the 25 characters to be played by 12 actors, Garner comments, “By fueling the audience's imaginations with a vivid lighting and sound design, we’ll provide just enough visual hints to make each space distinctive, while our real focus is to draw out all the glorious quirks for all the characters…this show is going to be an actor's dream with all the detailed vocal and physical work.” And an actor’s dream it is; up-and-coming Atlanta talent, Aaron Muñoz has been tapped to make his Theatrical Outfit debut as the modern-day prophet bellowing in the wilderness, Ignatius J. Reilly. Muñoz will be joined by a company of the well-loved Atlanta ‘who’s-who’ of comic actors and students from Kennesaw State University, who will be serving as ensemble members.
For more information about show times and tickets, call the Box Office at 678.528.1500 or visit www.theatricaloutfit.org. Box Office is open Tuesday – Friday from noon – 6:00pm and prior to all performances. Group rates available. Theatrical Outfit, 84 Luckie Street, Atlanta, GA 30303.
About Theatrical Outfit
Theatrical Outfit entertains, educates and enlivens our audiences by producing classic and contemporary theater with an emphasis on work indigenous to the culture of the American South. The themes of spirituality and racial understanding are particularly resonant in our culture, and we are committed to giving them dramatic voice in the heart of downtown. Founded in 1976, Theatrical Outfit is dedicated to Atlanta-based artists of national caliber.
Theatrical Outfit is a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization supported by private and public funding, along with ticket sales revenue. Major support is provided by the Fulton County Commission through the Fulton County Arts Council, the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, the Georgia General Assembly through the Georgia Council for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.