Fezziwig’s Fortune is technically a prequel to A Christmas Carol, but that description is both accurate and inadequate. The play – which was written by Josie Seid and Sara Jean Accuardi and is being featured in Fertile Ground‘s 2021 online festival of new performance – is something more: an intensely moving portrait of a grieving father and the forces (supernatural and otherwise) that reveal the possibilities beyond his pain.
ONLINE FESTIVAL: FERTILE GROUND 2021
In A Christmas Carol, Fezziwig is Ebenezer Scrooge’s ex-mentor—and a model for him to emulate (Charles Dickens presents him as a man who hasn’t let his cash eclipse his heart). “Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then?” Scrooge wonders. “The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
The premise of Fezziwig’s Fortune is perfect and perverse: It asks what agonies might lie behind its protagonist’s ebullient exterior. By the beginning of the play, Fezziwig (James Dixon) has witnessed the death of his daughter Joy (Barbie Wu) and the worsening headaches of his wife, Catherine (Nicole Accuardi). When an apparition named Hope (Andrea White) arrives to prepare Catherine for the next life, the scope of Fezziwig’s tragic existence comes into focus: He will be forced to endure a second loss when he hasn’t even begun to recover from the first.
During the first act, you wonder how this shattered yet outwardly cheery man will transform into the generous fellow in a Welsh wig from Dickens’ novel. While lesser playwrights might have been tempted to answer that question with a pedantic origin story, Seid and Accuardi have created something sadder, subtler, and more beautiful: a love story about accepting death.
Before Catherine dies, she wants to help Fezziwig transform the joyous façade he presents to the world into actual happiness. It’s an evolution that can only begin when he accepts the reality of Joy and Catherine’s absence, an emotional trial that puts Fezziwig on the same path as Tom Creo, the hero of Darren Aronofsky’s mystical sci-fi film The Fountain (another tale in which a wife helps her husband make peace with mortality).
Fezziwig’s Fortune is being presented as a virtual reading (it was directed by Matt Pavik), but the cast musters the charisma necessary to transcend the limitations of the format (the play also features ASL interpretation by Dot Hearn and Kathryn Hughes). That’s especially true during Fezziwig’s climactic encounter with Joy’s ghost, when the emotions radiating from the souls of the actors become so intense that you almost forget you’re not watching a fully staged production.
Fezziwig tells his daughter, “To me, you were the brightest of lights.” Even on a screen, Fezziwig’s Fortune is a light unto itself. Just think how brightly it will shine when it makes it to the stage.
- Fezziwig’s Fortune, produced by Linestorm Playwrights, debuts at noon Saturday, Feb. 6. Sunday is the final day for rollouts of new shows, but all festival projects will be available through Feb. 15 to stream on Fertile Ground’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
PREVIOUS STORIES ABOUT FERTILE GROUND 2021:
- Fertile Ground 2021: Digital seedlings sprout. Bennett Campbell Ferguson previews the festival and talks with director Nicole Lane about the switch from live to online viewing.
- Interactive cookies and scares. Bennett Campbell Ferguson writes about two plays with interactive aspects: Fold in Gently and RE: Lilith Lopez.
- Martha Bakes in Black & White. Bobby Bermea talks with playwright Don Wilson Glenn and director Damaris Webb about Martha Bakes, a play about race and history and the nation’s first First Lady in her colonial kitchen.
- Tough questions, tough answers. Lisa Collins’ “wonderful and exacting” new play Be Careful What You Ask For delves into a Portland killing and matters of race, Max Tapogna writes.
- The rhythm and meaning of Lilies. In the short Lilies, Max Tapogna writes, poet Joni Whitworth and filmmaker Hannah Piper Burns find the mythic amid the reality of Covid-19.
- A “Hot Mess” of a zombie jamboree. Mark LaPierre and Ian Anderson-Priddy’s zombie comic-book musical, Max Tapogna writes, will make your pulse rush. If you have one.
- Strike up the virtual festival band. This ArtsWatch Weekly update talks about Kwik Jones’s screwball comedy/mystery thriller Cat Napper and Rachael Carnes’s post-apocalyptic What a Memory Looks Like.
- A room with a redemptive view. Bobby Bermea talks with the makers of The November Project, a videotaped play that takes place in a bathroom.