Review: Renegade Theater Company’s ‘Fezziwig’s Feast’

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Mr. Fezziwig is a jolly old gent in a Welsh wig, and his wife is one “vast substantial smile.”

They are the consummate hosts of an annual dinner party at the warehouse where a pre-bah humbug Ebenezer Scrooge is one of two apprentices. On Christmas Eve, Fezziwig’s employees shut down the shop, and a parade of guests file in for eating, drinking and dancing.

Renegade Theater Company’s foray into dinner theater uses this feast as the backdrop for the classic holiday tale in the entertainment space at Clyde Iron Works. You play the role of a dinner guest. Actors in top hats or bonnets, in capes and floor-length dresses, mingle and chat, and steal nibbles from your bread basket.

Mr. Fezziwig, played by the always jolly Jody Kujawa, sets the scene: There will be food. And then the Fezziwig family and their staff will act out a story written by Mr. Fezziwig’s friend, a poor young writer named Charles Dickens, who unfortunately couldn’t make the soiree.

“Fezziwig’s Feast” is an adaptation created by the Actors Theater of Minnesota, a Twin Cities-based group that landed on Duluth stages at least twice in the early 2000s.

The best moments of this show, which runs just more than two hours, are the ghoulish introductions to the ghosts: the shimmery and ethereal Past (Jenna Kase), the hearty and hippie-like Present wearing a wreath-sized head ornament (Zachary Stofer), and the looming and reaper-ish Future with his long, twiggy bone hands.

The best of the best of this otherworldly cast is Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former partner who has been “dead as a door nail” for seven years. He comes to Scrooge accessorized in chains to warn him that he can change his dour fate. Blue and purple lights and a manipulated monster growl gave Stofer something that could easily double as a Halloween-themed cult classic. Kudos to director Anika Thompson, who took advantage of Clyde’s upper level as a stage for moaning and groaning ghost-like figures. It was a scene from a Marilyn Manson video.

Paul Waterman, as both Fezziwig’s accountant and Scrooge, is a terrific grouch in his opening scenes at the office with Bob Cratchit. And he fades perfectly into the backdrop while on his tour with the ghosts while subtly maintaining his game face. As he watches a younger version of himself dancing with a woman at a Fezziwig’s Feast of the past, he mimes his own dance in synch with young Scrooge.

Opening night included some timing issues between on-stage action and food service that I expect will get worked out within a few runs. There also was a varying level of commitment to character when the actors milled during the food breaks and before the show.

If Renegade is looking to build its fan base with something different than their traditional blue holiday comedy, they’ve done it. The audience of about 60 people was an eclectic mix.

Of the five shows that opened this weekend, this is the biggest ticket price at $49.95. But you won’t get the English feast at those other shows: potato and leek soup with smoked salmon crème fraiche; hearth-cooked turkey over field greens with poached pear, raisins, candied walnuts and roasted acorn squash vinaigrette; pork tenderloin with apple butter sauce; ginger mashed sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts; wood-fired peasant bread with whipped honey butter; and bread pudding with crème anglaise and brandy caramel sauce.

This review ran in the December 4, 2010, edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.

Review: Rubber Chicken Theater’s ‘Rubber Chicken Christmas Tea …’

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Brian Matuszak has been doing these sketch comedy revues for more than

20 years, and seems to relish the silliness involved with taking a topic like airport pat downs or a name like Cravaack and walloping it senseless.

The troupe, with it’s typical mouthful of a title, “Rubber Chicken’s Christmas Tea Party, or, Is That a Chip in Your Cravaack or Are You Just Happy to See Me,” put together a show with about 20 songs and sketches, featuring local political satire and holiday-themed hijinks.

There are plenty of genuine laugh-out-loud moments in the two-hour show, usually at the hands of Nathan St. Germain, an actor who is able to manipulate himself into a caricature whether he is playing Chip Cravaack having a meltdown as he considers the responsibilities of his new gig, or just Snoopy dashing across the stage with a box of ornaments.

The opening musical number is about 15 minutes long, using re-worded Christmas carols to poke at the TSA, road construction on I-35, Dennis Anderson’s pending retirement from WDIO-TV, elections, Brett Favre’s cell phone and the oil spill.

As is the general rule of sketch comedy, some scenes succeed and some sputter. Rubber Chicken Theater had more hits than misses in this six-actor, fairly well-edited revue.

The best piece is a post-fourth wall bit featuring St. Germain and Minden Hultstrom trapped in the audience. It’s a take on the Chilean miners, and is packed with clever digs at the people in the seats — how they are dressed and how they smell — and physical humor when Taylor Martin-Romme attempts a rescue.

But a close second is the closing number, “Minnesota Voters” to the theme of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” that has the entire cast dancing, singing and rapping.

Matuszak, who has never had a problem pimping one of his productions, even manages to incorporate the Oeuvre Award he won for his part in the production of “American Buffalo.”

Matuszak dug into the video archives for a vintage piece starring Dennis Anderson of WDIO-TV, and Pat Kelly, the retired anchor from KBJR. The quick skit from probably around the early 1990s has Kelly coming clean to Anderson about stealing his hair piece. Kelly stands before his mentor, doffed with a mess of brown fluff, and Anderson explains that doing the job well isn’t about “what’s up here,” he says, pointing to his head.

This show has seen plenty of venues before landing at The Venue, a multi-purpose space in the West End that has served them well for their annual “Evil Dead” productions. In the case of “Rubber Chicken Christmas Tea Party, etc.,” — at least on Friday night — the troupe was subject to the whims of the VFW’s karaoke contingent nearby.

If you can’t beat it, join it.

Rubber Chicken incorporated the interruption with a version of “Name That Tune,” in which audience members were invited to call out the song title. Friday’s winner received candy canes and a T-shirt from “Evil Dead.”

This is the only sketch comedy show in town right now. Renegade Theater Company, opted for something different with “Fezziwig’s Feast,” a dinner theater based on “A Christmas Carol.”

This review ran in the December 11, 2010 edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.