Oscar and Walt made its American premiere on Nov. 4 at City Theatre and will continue its Pittsburgh run through Sat., Nov. 20. The play, written by Donald Steven Olson and directed by Andrew Paul, tells the story of the real-life meet-up between Whitman and Wilde in 1882. At the time, Whitman was 62 and Wilde was 28. A press release for the show states that “cultures clash, egos flare, words fly, and secrets emerge,” and the performance delivered on all of the above.
The show won the 2019 Best Full-Length Play award from the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights/West Hollywood Pride Reading Festival. Later that year, Oscar and Walt made its world premiere at The English Theatre of Rome, Italy.
Oscar and Walt has only three actors, all of whom are outstanding. Sam Tsoutsouvas, who plays Whitman, Nick Giedris, who plays Wilde, and Lisa Ann Goldsmith, who plays Whitman’s sister-in-law, Louisa Whitman, all deliver thoroughly entertaining performances. Visually, the period set and costumes also work.
The play details conversations between the two poets and the dynamic between them. It’s important to note that audiences do not need to know much about Wilde and Whitman to understand what is happening in the show. A few references are made, but there is enough context throughout so that anyone can follow.
Although expectedly witty and funny, the show displays meaningful and serious interactions. The play addresses topics such as the pair’s respective thirst for fame, giant egos, deep secrets, and sexualities. While Whitman's sexuality has been a topic of debate throughout history, Wilde was more openly queer. The show even acknowledges the rumor that Wilde told a friend sometime after the meeting “I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips."
Literary fans and history buffs alike should enjoy the show, and the insight it provides into the lives of two enigmatic artists.
Kinetic Theatre Company presents Oscar and Walt. Continues through Sat., Nov. 20. City Theatre. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. $45. kinetictheatre.org