Adapting a much-beloved and famously unadaptable novel is a daunting task. But the Huntington Theatre Company isn't letting that stop them: They're putting on a production of John Kennedy Toole's comic masterpiece "A Confederacy of Dunces" this November. And they've found just the man to take on the familiar green hunting cap of the novel's hero, Ignatius Reilly. Nick Offerman, best known as the stoic Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation," will be stepping into the role. Offerman, who says he's been a fan of the Huntington since his theater days in Chicago, says it's a dream role, and one he was thrilled to try.
How did you end up getting involved with the show?
I was working in New York with my wife, doing this play "Annapurna," off Broadway and the producers of "Confederacy" called me and said do you want to do a workshop of this beloved comic novel that was a huge piece of literature in my formative years. When I started theater school, it was one of the first things the smarter kids handed me. And so I just said, I had no business saying yes to the workshop. I had no time to do it. And I said yes of course I’ll do it. (laughs)
What's the appeal of doing theater in Boston or Chicago, where you got your start?
Chicago and Boston, the great thing about those two cities is that you generally don’t have the ulterior motive of Hollywood or Broadway tainting your casting or your production. If you’re doing a play in those cities, it’s because you love doing great theater.
LA isn't really known for its theater scene.
When I moved to LA and tried to get involved in theater there, 8 out 10 productions were just people writing a play that was like an episode of “Friends,” hoping to get a TV writing job. You’re like, this doesn’t feel exactly cutting edge.
What was your connection to the book like prior to this?
For the world of the comedy nerd, as it were, “Confederacy of Dunces” has always been very emblematic. It represents the feeling of righteous indignation that all of us have, who have felt outcast because we’re weird or because our sense of humor wasn’t the same as all of the “normal people” Ignatius J. Reilly was a representative and firebrand representing our voice. And it’s just incredibly funny writing.
What did you think was important to bring from the book?
Two things come to mind. One is the personality of New Orleans itself. I feel like that’s almost the star of the show. Doing the workshop was an incredible ensemble of actors made it quite clear that the ensemble is an incredibly vibrant and rich and detailed depiction of the regular people on the street in New Orleans and the music and the smells and the everyday depravity of human life is really I think the source of a great deal of the humor in the piece. And then the travails of our protagonist, Ignatius, really represent the human condition, set against the titular confederacy of dunces, the way we all feel. It’s so easy for any of us to feel that the world is a group of dipshits conspiring against us.
What about the part makes you most excited?
As soon as I started reading the role, I just tapped into this sort of whining, solipsistic voice that I had in me. I was thrilled, I said wow, this take feels very right. I’ll be interested to see what everyone else thinks. And then we did the workshop and everyone seemed to agree that I was well-suited to playing a loudly whining baby.
That's very different from the stoic manly types you've played in the past.
That was also very attractive. As enjoyable as it has been to assay the role of Ron Swanson for 7 years, now that the show has ended, it’s become very important to me to find roles that can distance me from Ron Swanson so that I can hopefully get more work beyond "Parks and Rec." [Laughs]
Well, at least Ignatius also calls upon you for strong mustache work, just as Ron did.
The mustache will act as the footbridge by which we can cross the path of my career choices.