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Broadway producers, regional companies interested in Outfit’s ‘Dunces’ adaptation

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

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.”

11 comments Add your comment

Leslye Joy Allen

September 15th, 2010
8:15 am

This would be fantastic for such a fantastic production!!

Doc Lawrence

September 15th, 2010
9:15 am

Tom’s adaptation has Broadway stamped on the cover page. The story will never die and America love New Orleans now more than ever.

abby

September 15th, 2010
9:23 am

The show at Theatrical Outfit was phenomenal. It would be great for them (and Atlanta!) to get some well-deserved recognition!

Marlene Dickinson

September 15th, 2010
9:40 am

It was great to see your very colorful production. So pleased your adaptation came to life for Atlanta audiences to enjoy. Congrats on the off-Broadway/Broadway buzz. With such a strong ensemble, brilliantly double-cast and having achieved airtight timing, the original cast MUST go with the show. May they they head for New York with long, streaming neck scarves dancing behind in the breeze – an image we won’t soon forget. Thanks!

Kathleen McManus (Mrs. Reilly)

September 15th, 2010
11:00 am

Onward, Fortuna, ONWARD!!!!

Liz Kippels

September 15th, 2010
12:24 pm

When last we saw him, Ignatius was headed for New York. How wonderfully appropriate!

camille lemon

September 15th, 2010
1:53 pm

It would be fantastic to see this play on Broadway…ESPECIALLY with the Atlanta cast members. As I recal Ignatius and Myrna were on their way to NY at the end of the play, n’est-ce pas?

Betty Garrot

September 15th, 2010
7:10 pm

I grew up in New Orleans and have been a huge fan of this novel. You captured its humor and tragedy while bringing the characters to life in your amazing cast! This adaptation is a true genius-congrats on being recognized for it!

Charles Kendall Brown

September 16th, 2010
7:45 am

I saw the last performance of this amazing production. I was not prepared to see one of my favorite novels, that I’ve read so many times, so adeptly adapted to the stage.. and realized by a most talented creative team. Kudos to all involved. Thanks for bringing a tear to my eye for the memory of John Kennedy Toole. I am sure he would have been so proud to see it.

Paul Donnelly

September 16th, 2010
9:48 pm

It would be wonderful and warranted for this company to take this gorgeous script to Broadway, but it would be also be wonderful for other major regional theaters to be given the opportunity to produce this script and add to the drumbeat behind a Broadway production. Why shouldn’t Chicago and Washington and San Francisco and Minneapolis and … have this treat?

nick

September 21st, 2010
7:11 am

Saw the play over the Labor Day weekend. I am now reading the book. Hope it comes to Chicago someday also.