ignatius-j-reilly

A couple years ago–as part of a daily drawing challenge with my friends over at the Youth Arts Collective–I did 31 sketches of some of my favorite fictional characters (if interested, search the hashtag #31fictionalcharacters), and now the time has come to start another set. First up…

31 Fictional Characters # 2.1
“An Anachronism”

Friday night I took in an early performance of Nick Offerman in a Confederacy of Dunces at Huntingdon Theatre Company in Boston. They’re calling it a preview (the show officially opens the upcoming weekend, which keeps more scrupulous reviewers from publishing anything,) but I still had to pay $150 for the ticket so fuck ‘em, it’s a real show and it deserves a real review.

Full disclosure: A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books. Having been a resident of New Orleans, I find that there’s no other novel that quite captures the everyday comedy of living in that city quite as brilliantly as Dunces does. So I had concerns about ability of a two-hour stage production to measure up to the source material. On the other hand, playwright Jeffery Wright has created and adapted some truly fantastic pieces of theatre in the past, and the production team and cast were both highly pedigreed, and nobody was thinking to turn the show into a musical, so if there’s any chance the show could turn out as a winner, this is it.

And it almost pulls it off. Act 1 begins badly, with Offerman donning his fat suit and costume on stage, reminding the audience that there’s a Big Television Star inside that costume (I don’t think this is any result of an overabundance of ego on Offerman’s part, but the gimmick wouldn’t work for a actor with less celebrity, and instead just draws attention to the celebrity instead of the character.) That same act also ends badly, with an unjustified second-line parade. Act 2 is significantly better, although some of my fellow audience members didn’t stick around to find out that the play did find its legs well enough to stick the landing.

Also problematic is director David Esbjornson’s decision to perform the play without props of any kind, with the actors miming smoking, drinking, devouring the contents of a hot-dog cart, and raising an imaginary banner of workers’ protest: an opportunity for a beautiful visual gag lost because there’s no visual. While the sets are similarly mostly implied (and projected) the show doesn’t suffer quite as grievously from the lack of furniture as it does from lack of props.

Criticisms aside, Offerman and the rest of the cast are all first-rate. Ignatius Reilly is a character defined by his terrible traits: Judgmental, egocentric, thoughtless, cowardly, gluttonous, cruel, and stinky. Offerman doesn’t shy away from any of these, but still manages to keep the character sympathetic. The rest of the cast is similarly talented, milking every drop of character out of the supporting parts in Toole’s novel.

All that said, there’s a lot to like about the show, and with some merciless rewriting on the first act, and the addition of props to match the sound design (and give the more-visual jokes some focus,) it could be a show worthy of its source material.

ONE bit of lagniappe: outside the theatre, the most enterprising entrepreneur in Boston was hard at work selling hot dogs from a cart, wearing a green cap. Should you read this, sir, I salute you.

Most people I know read A Confederacy of Dunces when they were relatively young–high school, usually, or early in college. But every now and again I run across somebody who’s only either currently reading it or has just finished it, and they inevitably–no, fuck that, they always–tell me how much Ignatius–“a slob extraordinary…[whose] masturbatory fantasies lead in strange directions”– reminded them of me. 

How flattering! Makes me want to crack them over the head with my lute.

8

Favorite female characters

→ Rory Gilmore

“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann’s Way. It’s a rewarding world, but my second one is by far superior. My second one is populated with characters slightly less eccentric, but supremely real, made of flesh and bone, full of love, who are my ultimate inspiration for everything. Richard and Emily Gilmore are kind, decent, unfailingly generous people. They are my twin pillars, without whom I could not stand. I am proud to be their grandchild. But my ultimate inspiration comes from my best friend, the dazzling woman from whom I received my name and my life’s blood, Lorelai Gilmore.”

6

Considering myself tagged by @twostriptechnicolor to name 9 characters I identify with. I got through six and felt I was pretty well represented. I am:

Emma Woodhouse (Jane Austen’s Emma), Ignatius J Reilly (John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces), Grundoon the groundhog chile (who speaks nothing but inexplicable consonants, from Walt Kelly’s Pogo), Tracy Lord (Philadelphia Story), Joan Holloway Harris (Mad Men), and Cimorene (Patricia Wreade’s Dealing With Dragons). 

Edited to add: I am tagging @civilizedthings @nonasuch @jshreck @thepatternremains and @lanky-brunettes-with-wicked-jaws

I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann’s Way. It’s a rewarding world, but my second one is by far superior. My second one is populated with characters slightly less eccentric but supremely real, made of flesh and bone, full of love, who are my ultimate inspiration for everything. 

2

Aesthetics: Rory Gilmore 

“Headmaster Charleston, faculty members, fellow students, family and friends, welcome. We never thought this day would come. We prayed for its quick delivery, crossed days off our calendars, counted hours, minutes and seconds and now that it’s here, I’m sorry it is, because it means leaving friends who inspire me and teachers who’ve been my mentors, so many people who’ve shaped my life, and my fellow students lives impermeably and forever.

I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina and strolled down Swann’s Way. It’s a rewarding world, but my second one is by far superior.

  My second one is populated with characters slightly less eccentric, but supremely real, made of flesh and bone, full of love, who are my ultimate inspiration for everything. Richard and Emily Gilmore are kind, decent, unfailingly generous people. They are my twin pillars, without whom I could not stand.  I am proud to be their grandchild.

  But my ultimate inspiration comes from my best friend, the dazzling woman from whom I received my name and my life’s blood, Lorelai Gilmore. My mother never gave me any idea that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be. She filled our house with love and fun and books and music, unflagging in her efforts to give me role models from Jane Austen to Eudora Welty to Patti Smith. As she guided me through these incredible eighteen years, I don’t know if she ever realized that the person I most wanted to be was her. Thank you, Mom, you are my guidepost for everything.”