Confederacy of Dunces at Le Chat

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He is surly, unkempt, crass, oafish and one of the New Orleans’ best-loved fictitious citizens. Ignatius J. Reilly has been entertaining readers since he was first unleashed upon the Crescent City in John Kennedy Toole’s 1980 novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

 

But his personality, among other things, was too big to be contained within the pages of Toole’s novel, and his immense popularity has tempted many actors and directors to try and bring the character to the silver screen. While a film adaptation is still pending, actor and WWL talk show host John “Spud” McConnell has successfully filled Ignatius’ green hunting cap on stage. He reprises the role of the bayou buffoon, closed valve and all, in a benefit for the Tenessee Williams Festival at Le Chat Noir on Sunday, Nov. 30. (Two shows, 3 p.m. & 6 p.m.; tickets $50 general admission, $35 students, includes $5 drink credit)

 

McConnell as Ignatius first graced the stage in the 2000 Swine Palace (Baton Rouge) adaptation of the book. A few years later, the Tennessee Williams Festival approached McConnell and his longtime friend, director Perry Martin, and asked them to stage the show again.

 

The costumed stage reading that resulted featured popular scenes from the novel, as well as other scenes with some of the book’s colorful chraracters. Becky Allen, Shirl Cieutat, Bob Edes, Francine Segal and Nell Nolan appeared in the production.

 

Much of the show focuses on the interaction of the characters more than the plot, and this adds to the fast-paced nature of the production. The show is more a sketch of characters than an overall story, and this allows the audience to see the actors fill out their characters. Allen, who portrays Ignatius’ mother Irene Reilly is “perfect in the role of this ‘yat’ woman, because she knows the life of the character,” Martin says. “All of the actors have either lived these parts, or they know someone who has. The reading is genuine because they know what [Toole] was writing about.”

 

“It’s a great character study,” says Martin. “That why it works on stage. It’s not about the plot, it’s about the people and their lives and how they all interact.” Martin’s production stresses the importance of characterization, and his choice of scenes reflects this decision.

 

Their staged reading of Ignatius’ misadventures through the “flagrant vice capital of the civilized world” has become immensely popular in the last five years. “Our production is very unique,” says Martin. “It’s a production where the cast has as much fun, if not more, than the audience. — Bryan Davis

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