“The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” In A Christmas Carol, that’s how Ebenezer Scrooge describes his former mentor, Nigel Fezziwig. A cheery chap in a Welsh Wig, Fezziwig is everything the mean and miserly Scrooge isn’t.
Yet Josie Seid was curious about what lay beneath Fezziwig’s ebullient exterior. What if his joy were a dam built to stop the rising tide of grief? And what if he could experience catharsis? “If we had an opportunity to say goodbye properly, what would that look like?” she wondered. “That’s what this is. It’s like a gift.”
That gift is Fezziwig’s Fortune, a play by Seid and Sara Jean Accuardi presented by Anonymous Theatre. The world premiere is the company’s first holiday show and the first new play produced by Anonymous, which is famous for concealing the identities of its cast members until they appear onstage (the actors rehearse alone).
In the play, Fezziwig’s daughter Joy has died, a wrenching plotline dreamed up by Seid and Accuardi. The two playwrights spoke to WW about reimagining Charles Dickens, working with Anonymous, and writing a play about loss and love during a global pandemic.
WW: How do you perceive Fezziwig in the book versus the character as he’s portrayed in the play?
Josie Seid: Fezziwig is kind of a blip in A Christmas Carol. But the thing that drew me to him is that every iteration I saw of [the story], the young men that worked for him were always like, “Let’s do this fun stuff!” but it was almost like they were holding back, like [Fezziwig’s] outbursts of joy might well be outbursts of something else.
What if there was more to him than just the jolly stuff? And what if his grief filled the room as much as his joy? I think that’s what started me on this journey of like, who is this cat really and what is his whole dimension? What is that thing that’s keeping people holding their breath until he finishes that sentence?
Did the pandemic affect the story while you were writing?
Seid: [Fezziwig’s Fortune] is kind of a love letter to people who have lost someone. Because you think about the holidays [during the pandemic], and so many people are dying, this person is going to be so different, these holidays are going to be so different. But there’s always that empty seat at the table.
How much do you get to know from Anonymous Theatre? Do you get to know who’s in the cast?
Sara Jean Accuardi: They said, “What would you like to do?” and so we got to choose, which is a really hard choice to make. Part of me wants to be at every rehearsal, because that’s one of my favorite parts as a playwright. It’s fun to watch your thing grow and come together, or [you could] have the joy of watching an Anonymous production come to life and surprise you. And we both chose to be in the dark.
Seid: For me, if it was any other theater, I’d be all up in it. But Anonymous is such a beautiful, exciting beast that I didn’t want to take away from that. The excitement of working with Anonymous is all that they are—the mystery, the artistry. It’s almost like improv.
Both of you bring so much positivity into the world with your art and as people. Have you had Fezziwig moments when people don’t realize that you need people to make you happy?
Accuardi: My response is, doesn’t everyone? I assume that everyone goes through their own moments of feeling that—or at least maybe I tell myself that. Your cup may not be as full as it needs to be in order to function.
Seid: I have always been the smallest person. I’m shy. I was bullied as a kid. I would say I give myself therapy. This isn’t for them, it’s for you. As an artist, to you, [your art is] not special. It’s just a part of you that has to come out or it’ll make you lose your mind.
SEE IT: Fezziwig’s Fortune plays at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts, 12625 SW Crescent St., Beaverton, 971-501-7722, anonymoustheatre.org. 7 pm Monday, Dec. 19. $24-$64.