If you’ve ever seen Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” performed, you know what a mouthful the script is — chock full of fast-moving banter and expertly set up quips that keep the audience laughing from its first moments to the final curtain.
Now imagine being an actor needing to deliver those lines with food in your mouth in pretty much every scene. Daniel Fredrick, who plays the witty and lovable Algernon “Algy” Moncrieff in the Walnut Street Theatre production, knows this challenge all too well. His character has an insatiable appetite for pleasure and for any snack within arm’s reach — cucumber sandwiches and tea-time muffins in particular. And yes, he’s really eating up there.
“The dialogue is pretty unforgiving. You can’t really afford a mistake. Eating while I’m doing that makes my margin for error even thinner,” says Fredrick. “I ask that the sandwiches be made as small as possible so I can get them down quickly.”
The actor somehow makes the feat look like a breeze, bringing Algernon to life with all his dandy panache and sharp-shooting vocal delivery, a far cry from Fredrick’s first time onstage as a kid.
“The first play I ever did was an Earth Day play in 5th grade and I very specifically did not want a line,” he remembers. “I didn’t want to have to say anything. But then one of the kids got sick and I had to learn his line and I completely blanked in front of everybody. I was like, ‘I’m never going to do that again.’”
After a change of scenery the following year, however, his attitude towards acting did a 180.
“We moved to New York and I went to this really incredible private school. My parents took us to see a lot of theatre. I don’t know if it was seeing plays there [that inspired me]. I don’t know if it was kind of being in a different school environment. But something switched, and I did another play in 6th grade. And from there on I just really, really loved it.”
These days, Fredrick calls Philadelphia home, living with his wife, who is also an actor. When they’re not working, bike riding in the city, exploring East Passyunk’s restaurant scene and hitting up farmers markets are just a few of their favorite Philly pastimes.
“It’s a really nice place to live. It’s the kind of place where I don’t have to do something else [to make money.] I can afford to just do the play,” he reveals. “Most of the time, artists have their job and then need to do something else to survive. The fact that we don’t have to do that — I feel really fortunate. Philly is a place where that’s accessible to us.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” runs through April 30 at The Walnut Street Theatre.
For more information, visit: walnutstreettheatre.org.