By Howard Pousner
Theatrical Outfit’s extended run of “A Confederacy of Dunces” ended Sunday, but there is a good chance that executive artistic director Tom Key’s adaptation of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel will live to see another stage.
Two Broadway producers and four major regional theaters are considering Key’s artful compression of John Kennedy Toole’s grand but rambling farce about the misadventures of anti-hero Ignatius J. Reilly. But Key first needs to gain permission for additional productions from New York literary agency McIntosh & Otis, representing rights-holder LSU Press.
“Dunces” has tantalized playwrights and filmmakers over the years, but the rights to produce the New Orleans-set epic rarely have been extended.
Key said that Theatrical Outfit will build a case this fall to present to the literary agency. Based on the critical and audience response in Atlanta and the buzz the production has generated in theater circles nationally, he’s hopeful.
“I’m not only confident in the text but confident in what we realized collaboratively as a company,” Key said. In fact, he’s such a believer in the collaboration of director Richard Garner, the actors and Outfit’s creative team that he’s prepared to campaign for the Atlanta production to transfer to off-Broadway or Broadway.
“If it’s possible that this could be produced in New York in the next five years, I would advocate for our production to be the one showcased,” Key said. “Atlanta’s talent pool is part of our mission. I think it would be better to not reinvent the wheel for New York but build on what we learned from this premiere.”
Key, whose writing credits include “Cotton Patch Gospel” and adapting Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” had sought the rights to the late Toole’s novel (“a comedy of Falstaffian proportions”) since 1996. Since he took over the Outfit in 1995, the company has specialized in stagings that emphasize the culture of the South.
Highlighter in hand, Key began working on the first of four drafts the week after Christmas last year. Draft two cut the script from 120 to 100 pages. The third draft, based on feedback from director Garner and others, reconfigured the material and included some additions to clarify some scenes and to make it possible for actors playing multiple roles to make costume changes. The fourth version came after the cast’s first run-through.
“I realized it was still about 25 minutes too long,” Key said. The show now clocks in at 2 hours, 27 minutes.
Regardless of what the future holds, Key called the effort rewarding.
“As great as it is to enjoy a wonderful novel, the only greater thing is to enjoy the novel with an audience,” he said. “That’s just absolutely the best.”