Mr. Toole

John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969) was the author of posthumously published (1979) A Confederacy of Dunces which garnered the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Playwright Vivian Neuwirth was one of his students at St. Mary’s Dominican College in New Orleans where he was much admired.

Toole committed suicide by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe into a window of his car. His suicide note was described as rambling and crazed. Neuwirth suggests that failure to get published/creative acceptance was the reason, though being gay in the south and cohabiting with a suffocating mother (he lived with his parents at age 31) might’ve contributed to an unbalanced mind. Mr. Toole is a love poem to the author and, secondarily, to the mother who doggedness finally brought her son’s work to light.

Julia Randall (Lisette); Linda Purl (Thelma) and Thomas G. Waites (Arthur)

Without exploration as to the subject’s actual motivation, the play is flat. Multiple quotes from T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock are meant to parallel Toole’s angst. (The stream of consciousness poem describes modern man’s impotence and isolation.) Does Neuwirth particularly recall his teaching the poem? Here, she’s represented by the obsessed Lisette (Julia Randall – lacking personality) who develops a relationship with her teacher’s mother after his passing.

Construction is hodge-podge. We jerk from here to there and, after death, from now to then and back. (Toole hovers.) Neuwirth gives equal weight to almost every scene and unnecessarily repeats information. Overlong at an hour fifty, the piece needs editing and rethinking.

Acting, except for John Ingle’s appearances as Toole’s bar friend and later, the author Walker Percy, is not believable. Ingle brings naturalness and ballast to the stage.

John Ingle (Walker Percy) and Linda Purl (Thelma)

Linda Purl (mother, Thelma Toole) is all surface technique. Husband John, Stephen Schnetzer, enacted as mentally impaired, is blank. I have no knowledge as to whether the man’s diminished capacity is accurate, but defined persona is absent. (Toole’s state might’ve been hereditary.)

Thomas G. Waites (Thelma’s brother, Arthur) has genuinely sympathetic passages, but little to play against. Ryan Spahn (John Kennedy Toole) seems consistently vague. It’s as if the performer is trying to present internal turmoil, but can’t figure out how. Perhaps he’d be fine with a different director.

Director Cat Parker does a wrong-headed play no service by allowing players to be underdeveloped. Accents are inconsistent and quite terrible. (Dialect Coach Charley Layton)

Video paneled set by George Allison works well to indicate where, without being obtrusive, like so much theatrical video use these days.

Angela Harner’s costumes fit scenario and character.

Photos by Ken Howard
Opening: Ryan Spahn as John Kennedy Toole

Articulate Theatre Company, in association with Lagniapp presents
Mr. Toole
by Vivian Neuwirth
Directed by Cat Parker
59E 59 Theaters
Through March 15, 2020

About Alix Cohen (818 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.