THEATER | “Fezziwig’s Feast”: It’s about the family, not the food

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“Well,” said the nice man from Zumbrota sitting with his wife next to me at table 16, “this is different!”

Fezziwig’s Feast is indeed a “different” telling of A Christmas Carol—”different” in the sense that most adaptations don’t have the Fezziwigs personally serving Christmas dinner to you in your seat. In most other respects, though, Fezziwig’s Feast is stolidly traditional, which in the case of this production is very much a virtue.

fezziwig’s feast, presented through december 19 at the wigington pavilion, harriet island. for tickets ($74.50 adult, $34.50 child) and information, see actorsmn.org.

The premise of Fezziwig’s Feast, now being staged by the Actors Theatre of Minnesota in the charming Wigington Pavilion on Harriet Island, is that audience members are guests at the Fezziwig Warehouse, and that author Charles Dickens has shared his new holiday story with the Fezziwigs. The family members then enact the story while guests are served a three-course (or 11-course, if you count every line on the menu) meal featuring such courses as “mixed green salad with toasted almonds, craisins, smoked bacon, shaved Parmesan, and poppyseed dressing”; “crown roasted pork and sauteed apple cider gravy”; and “fresh baked artisan rolls and bread with rosette of herb butter.”

My hunch that the promise of “gourmet roasted coffee” was a flag that the whole meal was being oversold turned out to be correct: to be candid, what you get at Fezziwig’s Feast is a subpar wedding meal. If food is your top priority for the evening, the Fezziwig Warehouse is not the place to spend your $74.50. If you’re okay with the food merely being present and nourishing, though, please read on.

After seeing the Guthrie’s new production of A Christmas Carol, my mom and I discussed why we were both disappointed. Mom is a traditionalist, and she didn’t appreciate the way Crispin Whittell’s script changed important details from Dickens’s novel. I’m all for tweaking tradition, but I thought the Guthrie’s production tweaked poorly. A Christmas Carol is an elegant and satisfying story, and chances are, if you rewrite it you’re not going to improve on the original.

The playwright of Fezziwig’s Feast is uncredited, but that may be out of appropriate modesty: almost all the narration and dialogue come straight from Dickens. Almost no trademark lines or situations are omitted, from Scrooge’s gravy/grave quip to the little boy who runs off to buy the turkey as big as he is. (That’s Noah Ratgen, grandson of my tablemates.) The cozy, low-tech production highlights the story instead of the show, and it works wonderfully.

At the heart of the production is not Fezziwig (Scott Jorgenson), who is not a very interesting character and isn’t made to be. The real treat of this Feast is Richard Ooms, the best Scrooge I’ve ever seen on any stage. (Liberals will enjoy the fact that in character as Scrooge, Ooms bears a strong resemblance to Rupert Murdoch.) The veteran actor has great fun with his early curmodgeonliness, and lets his heart start warming early on, so by the time the show is over he’s heated up to a joyous glow that fills the room.

The entire production feels appealingly like a family celebration—as it should, given that the cast includes a couple of actual families. The show is filled with pleasant song, the pavilion is festively decked in lights and garlands, and everyone goes home with a full stomach (at least if you eat three dinner rolls, like I did) and a happy heart. The tickets are, as Dickens might have said, quite dear—but if you’ve budgeted for a family theater outing and you’re looking for a show with a palpable holiday spirit, Fezziwig’s Feast is well worth your consideration.

This production is featured in the Daily Planet’s complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you’ll know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.