by Rita Charleston
“Mickle Street,” by playwright Michael Whistler, imagines a private conversation between Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman during a historic meeting across the river from Philadelphia. Directed by Greg Wood, the production opens on Feb. 19 and runs through March 8 at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3.
The play is set in 1892, when a young and flamboyant Wilde, played by Daniel Fredrick, tours the U.S. on a lecture tour and stops to visit Whitman one afternoon. Over a glass of elderberry wine, these two men discuss man’s existence and discover a common sense of beauty.
According to Fredrick, 27, “The play takes place in real time one afternoon over an hour and a half. The two did meet, but we don’t know exactly what they spoke about, so Michael has taken some dramatic license by imagining what might have happened between them.”
Whistler says the idea for the play came 25 years ago when he read a biography of Wilde that mentioned the meeting. “I kept that thought in mind and wondered what the two men, so different and yet with some real commonalities, had to say to one another.”
His research helped him write the play and develop the characters, Fredrick says. “The research also helped us develop a lot of physicality and manner of speaking. I try to be honest in the way I portray Wilde’s grandness and flamboyancy to give the audience a real feel for the person underneath it all.”
(Ed. Note: Oscar Wilde, best known as the playwright of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a brilliant satire that is still performed all over the world, and for his only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” was one of Great Britain’s most controversial and witty literary figures. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854, Wilde became a major literary star in London, but at the height of his fame and success he was imprisoned in 1896 for two years for “gross indecency,” i.e., for having a homosexual relationship with a politically connected young man, Lord Alfred Douglas, who turned against him. Wilde came out of prison a broken man and died soon afterwards in 1900 in Paris at the age of 46.)
Fredrick, who lived all over the country because of his father’s work as a pharmaceutical lawyer, holds a BFA from Texas Christian University. While in Texas, during a Shakespeare Festival in 2009 he met Alexander Burns, Artistic Director of Quintessence Theatre Group.
“One day Alex asked me to come to Philly to be in a show at the theatre. I agreed and came back to Quintessence a couple more times to do shows, and each time I came here to perform I stayed in Mt. Airy, a place I really love. In fact, when I’m not on the stage acting, I often come back here to work at Earth, Bread and Brewery across the street from Quintessence on Germantown Avenue.”
Today, Fredrick has moved to South Philly, mainly because he’s not acting with Quintessence this season, and says since most of his acting credits will be in Philly, it would make it too difficult to commute. His latest appearance marks his debut at the Walnut. He’s also amassed commercial credits with Comcast and 6ABC-TV, done a film titled “Treehouse” and more.
“I love doing theater but most of the money comes from doing film and TV work,” Fredrick said, “but no matter what you do, you need training, and you do have to learn to take rejection. There’s no way everybody’s path will be the same, but when you’re doing the very best you can, someday it’ll all work out.”
Tickets for “Mickle Street” are $30-$40. For more information, call 215-574-3550.