At a quarter past 7 on Saturday night, I slip into heels and sail out of my apartment, bound for the Upper Quad taxi line. Ten minutes later, two friends and I are speeding beneath Philadelphia's glittering forest of skyscrapers. The river quivers with reflected city lights as we zoom over the Market Street bridge, and I can't help smiling with giddy anticipation. Our destination is an animated strip of Sansom Street where we duck into the Adrienne, home to the InterAct Theatre Company. In the lobby, habitual theatergoers circle by InterAct's door, anxious for the first play of the season from the company that delivered last year's most celebrated production. Soon we're settling into the theater's creaky aisles to watch Nixon's Nixon, a two-man political satire played out on a set not much bigger than my bedroom. Since the 106-seat theater didn't quite sell out, we sat up front, close enough to see the sweat beading on the actors' necks. This sure ain't Broadway. And thank goodness. Every time I've been to the Great White Way, I've strained from the 80-somethingth row to glimpse actors so tiny they might have been hallucinations. On InterAct's well-worn little stage, less is more, and art takes life in the details of the performance. I can hear the actor tweaking his voice to infuse emotion into a word like an Olympic gymnast twisting on the parallel bars toward flawless physical expression. This is why I go to the theater -- to see magic, spun from the threads of human imagination, materialize before my eyes. But in my mind, going to a show is an event, and as the play ends, nightlife beckons in every corner of Center City. Stepping out onto Sansom Street and chattering about the show, my companions and I are now just two blocks from Rittenhouse Square's ring of modish restaurants. If I'd caught a show on Broad Street, the heart of Philly arts, I might have ended up threading through Old City's bubbling bar scene. The glamour of the Big Apple is seductive, but I don't have to stray so far from home to paint the town red. The trek to Broadway gobbles up an entire day and practically an entire paycheck. If you don't drown under the tsunamis of people washing up in Times Square, you might get to watch over-hyped theater from the back row. You go to New York for the glitz -- and sometimes get only glare. Philadelphia theater sees her share of lemons, but the bitter taste fades quickly in a town that has perfected the art of dusting itself off and stepping back into the ring. Local theater refuses to be intimidated by Manhattan's supposed superiority. Philly's home-grown talent cultivates the unique flavor of the city's artistic life through hard work and unapologetic spunk. The result is an inspired, fun and honest theater community. Penn alumnus and director Seth Rozin, who chose Philadelphia over New York to make a home for InterAct Theatre, knows that in Philly, everything's coming up roses. He helped plant the seeds. "In the 13 years I've been doing professional theater," Rozin said. "I've seen Philadelphia blossom from a fairly marginal scene to one of the most diverse and exciting scenes in the country." Local companies represent a rainbow of styles -- everything from the Walnut Street Theatre's family fun musicals to the avant garde of the Fringe Festival, an annual smorgasbord of productions that skips along the raw edges of experimentality. Spectators hankering for Broadway's beloved song-and-dance spectacles can catch imported favorites like Rent and The Phantom of the Opera at the Forrest and Merriam theaters. But rather than reproduce New York's latest hits, companies like InterAct dare to produce new scripts, putting Philly in the business of discovering and nurturing tomorrow's hits. Last year, InterAct's production of Lebensraum, a wrenching tale of hate and love 50 years after the Holocaust, snagged three of the theater community's most prestigious awards. InterAct revived the show for 14 more sold-out performances. Lebensraum's return was like the coming-home celebration for that gold-medal gymnastics team -- and I got to go to the party. There in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with 105 other riveted spectators, I held my breath as the actors swept us up in their fantasy world. Rare is it that you get to feel like you're a part of something special. The theater scene in Philadelphia on a Saturday night is just my size -- large enough to lure me to its doors, and small enough to let me in.Comments powered by Disqus
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