"A Confederacy of Dunces' On Stage In Boston
The world premiere stage adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s picaresque, posthumously published, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” is very much like its lead character, Ignatius Riley: flamboyant, overstuffed and discursive — but also, at times, fascinating and fun. Much of the appeal comes from Nick Offerman’s terrific turn as its slob/snob hero, tapping into the perfectly-timed deadpan he used to great effect on NBC series “Parks & Recreation.” Offerman endows this arch and effete Falstaffian figure with glimmers of fear, loneliness and tenderness in his perpetual revolt against the modern age.
But if the exuberant-yet-corpulent production at Boston’s Huntington Theater (with some significant commercial names attached, including Steven Soderbergh) is to move forward, some dramaturgical Slimfast is needed. Of course, that risks challenging the book’s fans, who are devoted to each eccentric character and meandering episode.
Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has already done an impressive job of editing and shaping the story for the stage, retaining its essence as well as some of its dandiest dialogue. But more work still needs to be done to keep new audiences beguiled by the adventures of this proud and mammoth misfit, trapped by the extravagance of his own imagination.
Director David Esbjornson keeps the traffic of the show’s many characters and plot lines as smooth as possible with a stripped-down, self-aware and transformational approach. It only works some of the time.
Indeed, the play begins with a bare stage, as Offerman simply appears as himself, wearing nothing but a big bushy moustache and his underwear. Cast members then slide him into the fat suit, adding items of clothing to create Ignatius’ iconic look: giant tweed pants, unlaced boots, plaid flannel shirt, suspenders, muffler, and Ignatius’ signature hunter’s cap with the flaps down. (The hat gets a round of applause.)