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A Confederacy of Dunces

a Comedy
CATEGORY :
by John Kennedy Toole, adapted by Tom Key

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 3789

SHOWING : August 11, 2010 - September 05, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

From the get-go, Ignatius J. Reilly 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 Officer Mancuso and cool-jive, street-smart Jones to revolutionary minx Myrna Minkoff and muscatel-swilling, bowling addict Santa Battaglia. Directed by Georgia Shakespeare’s Richard Garner, 16 cast members play over 25 different characters!


CAST & CREW LIST
Costume Designer Jamie Bullins
Technical Director BJ Garmon
Sound Designer Thom Jenkins
Stage Manager Wendy Palmer
Scenic Charge Kat Parham
Props Designer M. C. Park
Lighting Designer Mike Post
Hair and Wig Designer J. Montgomery Schuth
Set Designer Sara Ward
Mr. Levy/ Ensemble Brik Berkes
George/ Ensemble Andrew Crigler
Waitress/ Ensemble Rachel DeJulio
Darlene/Myrna/Ensemble Laura Floyd
Trixie/ Santa/ Miss Annie/ Ensemble Marianne Fraulo
Sergeant/ Ensemble Mark Kincaid
Jones/ Ensemble Enoch King
Gonzales/ Ensemble Eric Mendenhall
Narrator/ Watson E. Roger Mitchell
Ignatius J. Reilly Aaron Muñoz
Claude/ Clyde/ Ensemble Bill Murphey
Dorian, Ensemble Andrew Puckett
Mancuso Scott Warren
Miss Inez/ Ensemble Mary Wolfson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Key Contributor
by playgoer
Sunday, September 12, 2010
5.0
Tom Key has devised a delightfully winning adaptation of John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "A Confederacy of Dunces," now playing at Theatrical Outfit. The use of a narrator is sometimes the sign of a lazy adapter, allowing the narrative flow to be bridged over in sections that the adapter couldn't figure out how to dramatize. Here, though, the narrator (E.Roger Mitchell) acts more as introducing chapters in a book, rarely taking up more than a few moments of stage time. The most notable exception is his diagrammatic exposition of the pyloric valve, one of the many comedic moments in the show.

There are a lot of words flowing at the audience, always at a brisk pace. The feel is of taking a speedy read through a book you just can't put down. It's rare that a stage production gives you the feeling of a book unfolding for you, but that's just the impression "A Confederacy of Dunces" gives you. It's slightly messy and disjointed, the way a book can be, in contrast to the neatness usually imposed upon the dramatic arc of a play, but it contains enough plot-driven and emotional through-lines to make up a satisfying entertainment.

The non-stop action and top-notch cast certainly help. The cast list is filled with the stalwart ranks of Atlanta's professional actors, but there is also the delight of Aaron Muñoz making his Atlanta debut in the central role of Ignatius J. Reilly. He is physically right for the role, and carries off the off-center erudition of his character with aplomb (but more often with a hot dog). He's a delightful, off-kilter presence around whom the action swirls.

Director Richard Garner has staged a constant flow of action among the many settings of the show. The background is an overly busy collage of New Orleans photographs designed by Sara Ward that doesn't do much other than offer a window and a few doors and openings for the action to make use of. It's the furniture and props that are whipped on and off stage by cast members that delineate the settings. Excellent lighting design by Mike Post concentrates the action to the specific section(s) of the wide Balzer Theater stage that are in use at any one time. The white couch rolled on and off by the Levys (Brik Berkes and the wonderful Agnes Lucinda Harty) provides one of the many delights in stage transitions that easily could have spoiled momentum if replaced by blackouts.

Nearly everyone in the cast has his or her moment. Some actors make strong impressions in multiple roles. The versatile Marianne Fraulo uses her wide vocal and physical range to embody both the geriatric Miss Trixie and the no-nonsense Santa. William S. Murphey warms the heart as sweet, communist-obsessed Claude and nails the more standard character role of Clyde. Agnes Lucinda Harty pulls off the impossible feat of portraying sleazy strip club owner Lana Lee and elegant, bleeding-heart Mrs. Levy with equal poise and believability.

Eric Mendenhall, while also appearing in the ensemble, makes his impression as Gonzales, a manager at the Levy pants factory, alternately pleased and perplexed by the erratic behavior of his employee Ignatius Reilly. Laura Floyd makes her finest impression as the lovely, talent-challenged would-be stripper Darlene, sporting one of the many delightful wigs designed by Monty Schuth. But, come to think of of, she's pretty darn good too (and completely different) as New York activist Myrna, wearing simple braids. It's a neat stunt having the same actress portray the object of Ignatius' lust, a busty "French postcard" model hidden behind a copy of Boethius' "The Consolation of Philosphy," and the soulmate with whom he escapes New Orleans at the end.

Of those with single roles, Kathleen McManus provides a lot of humor as Ignatius' mother, while also helping us understand how Ignatius has turned out the way he has. Scott Warren, as patrolman Mancuso, has the most realistic stage cough I have ever experienced, leading to another delightful (if obvious) stage bit as he shakes hands with Claude Robichaux. His story's arc provides a nice background for the show, showing us the way Fortuna's wheel brings a person down and then can suddenly spin him to heights.

"Oh, Fortuna!" Ignatius cries frequently as his fortunes change. Let's hope that this adaptation's fortunes continue to rise, following its extended run at Theatrical Outfit and making its way out into the wide world of stage adaptations to be performed elsewhere in the country. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
A Genius of Limited Appeal
by Dedalus
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
4.5
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

This is how John Kennedy Toole introduced the world to Ignatius J. Reilly, the lumbering hulk of an anti-hero who oozes and belches his way through “A Confederacy of Dunces,” the masterful debut novel that was published in 1980 going on to win the Pulitzer Prize, unfortunately too late to save the troubled author from suicide.

Toole’s tragedy has become required reading in any discussion on his book, since it is the classic illustration of an artist whose driving demons lead to works of staggering beauty or to self-destructive spirals of questionable behavior. I will spare you the details in this discussion, since they are readily available elsewhere. I merely mention them to illustrate how genius, art, and self-destruction are constant bedmates, a ménage a trois of creativity and death

In fact, the difficulty of this novel’s gestation has been mirrored somewhat in the various attempts to film or dramatize it. Through the years, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley, and now Will Ferrell have been attached to a film project at one time or another, yet the novel remains stubbornly unfilmed. Now, Theatrical Outfit’s Tom Key has written a stage version that, although not without its problems, nevertheless captures the scope and splendor of the book, its strangely compelling anti-hero, and its panoramic portrait of the denizens of 1962 New Orleans.

Ignatius J. Reilly is a misanthrope of Falstaffian dimensions. Plagued by digestive problems, obesity, and disdain for the humanity that passes by his window, he is happily ensconced in a bedroom of his mother’s crumbling New Orleans home. When an unfortunate series of events (must of which find their source in Ignatius’ bull-in-the-china-shop approach to life) lead to a financial debacle, our Mr. Reilly must stir himself to actual lower himself into the labor market. In short order, he finds himself filing invoices for the Levy Pants Company, and, eventually selling foot-long hot dogs on the streets of the city. Meanwhile, a hapless policeman is forced to “go undercover” to bring in “suspicious characters,” a bar owner’s pornographic side business comes under threat, an exotic dancer learns some new bird tricks, a senile accountant is not allowed to retire (or get her “holiday ham”), and Mama Reilly may once again find a little romance.

And, at the center of all this eccentricity, is Ignatius J. Reilly, pronouncing his judgments to anyone who doesn’t want to hear them, shattering the peace (and profitability) of any business foolish enough to retain his services (such as they are), working on his own staggering work of genius (a multi-volume condemnation of human society and contemporary morality), and blissfully floating above the disdain the world seems to hold for him. And, in the person of actor Aaron Muñoz, Theatrical Outfit has found the perfect embodiment of Toole’s epic character. Mr. Muñoz, besides being a dead-ringer for the cover illustration of the novel, brings to play a strange charm that makes us enjoy his antics, even as we’re appalled at their consequences. He brings a haughtiness to his pronouncements that manages to make his most brutal judgments funny and plausible. He “gets” Ignatius from the get-go, and manages to show even skeptical “unfans” of the book what the rest of us have been talking about all these years.

Kathleen McManus is brilliant as Ignatius’ harried and hennaed mother, finding exasperation in dealing with her pit bull of a son, solace in a bottle of cheap muscatel, and wonder in the way the elderly Claude Robichaux actually finds her attractive. Others in the cast play multiple roles to perfection, creating a “Greek Chorus” of New Orleans denizens that make the city a major character of the piece. I especially liked William Murphey’s aforementioned Claude Robichaux, Agnes Harty’s flinty Lana Lee and flintier Mrs. Levy, Eric Mendenhall’s Gonzales, and Marianne Fraulo’s senile Trixie and earth-mother-warm Santa Battaglia. If I found the narrator of E. Roger Mitchell a semi-clumsy construct, he nevertheless made him a real character and provided a warm and welcome “in” to the bizarre characters bumping against each other like pinballs. And if Scott Warren’s Officer Mancuso started out as a bit of a cipher, he filled out nicely as his “disguises” become more and more bizarre, until his final victory is actual cause for cheering.

Set Designer Sara Ward has created a stylized playing area, a hint of wrought-iron railing frou-frou framing a stage dominated by large period photos of New Orleans and its people. Specific playing areas are suggested rather than recreated, giving the whole affair a feeling of a seamless journey through a city-scape long dying but never quite dead. Distant hints of jazz evoke the city, and odd hints of dialect (described in a surprising introduction to the book) hint at the diversity of the city. Director Richard Garner proves he has a feel for this period as well as the plethora of eras he dabbles in at Georgia Shakespeare, orchestrating the characters and stories in a way that is compulsively watchable and enjoyable.

So, “A Confederacy of Dunces” does have its detractors, “unfans” who find Ignatius a bit of a bitter pill and Toole’s prose a bit too languid and obscure. I, however, always loved it, and am gleefully re-reading the book almost thirty years after I first encountered it. This production proves that Ignatius is a character born for the stage, one whose true charms can be fully realized by an actor of skill showing us the puppydog hiding beneath the misanthrope, the dunce lurking beneath the genius.

I daresay this play will have its “unfans,” just as the book did. But, if I may paraphrase the Jonathan Swift epigram that gives the play its title:

When a true work of genius appears on the stage, you may know it by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against it.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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