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San Francisco Fringe 2022

Young Oscar, Wilde in San Francisco

Eric Wilcox

Genre: Solo Performance

Venue: EXIT Theatre, San Francisco


Low Down

“Indeed, anyone who disappears is later seen here, in San Francisco… ”

Spend an hour with a notorious ne’er-do-well as he struts for rowdy crowds in bustling 1880’s San Francisco. This one-act play captures the spark of Wilde’s little known first foray to the stage: an American lecture tour as an arch, 26-year-old aesthete. Wilcox uses archival sources and an unusual acting style to create a captivating portrait of this emerging writer. You never saw San Francisco like this!


Oscar Wilde visited San Francisco to speak about art and how we can apply it to decor in our homes. Being a very stylish personality it follows that his advice would be at least curious and at most vital, therefore, he was welcomed by many San Franciscans. Commentary, reports and reviews recorded Wilde’s visit and it is from these documents that Eric Wilcox bases this show. It’s an opportunity to relive this time theatrically brought to life by Wilcox, who is both writer and performer.

It’s 1882 and a twenty six year old Wilde arrives in San Francisco – inevitable scandal follows him! Wearing a long black cape, dark green suit with velvet jacket and a crimson silk scarf, Wilcox plays Wilde – and several others, mainly reporters and journalists. He changes his voice, accent, facial expression and sometimes adds a hat when playing the other characters but it is his portrayal of Wilde that is carefully delineated and so compelling to watch.

The contrast between the raucous journalists interviewing him or reporting on the lectures and happenings of Wilde in San Francisco and Wilcox’s genteel demeanor and restrained flamboyant matter of factness is apparent. Wilde’s artistic temperament shows in his language, including witty quips and it is interesting to hear his point of view to people and things he discovers across America and in California.

In response to a leading question posed by a reporter “What is art?” Wilcox makes a noticeable reaction then answers, followed by one of several brief non-verbal poetic physical vignettes. Oscar continues his lecture called The House Beautiful, expounding on topics such as Queen Anne Furniture or how to find decoration for little cost. Wilcox tells a fascinating story of Wilde’s journey on a train across the US and how farmers and townsfolk lined up to view him as a curiosity, to which Wilde responded by posing for them!

The juxtaposition of the brash reporters’ questions and Wilde’s responses cleverly offer two distinct points of view and adds theatrical conflict and depth to the piece. After a while, Wilcox settles into his character and the selections of text together with his resonant voice and performance choices are endearing and well received. One or two transitions between characters seemed uneven and will smooth out during the run of this new show. Wilcox is a strong physical performer and more physical gestural phrases would be welcome and add to the theatrical storytelling.

From his travels and live lectures Wilde brings art appreciation to the people in the days before the Internet or readily available up to date news about politics, trends and art across the globe. Wilcox finishes the performance with Wilde talking about some of his favorite things, beauty, sunlight and the mysteries of the world.