Review: At the Drake in Center City, an evolution and ‘#therevolution’

 In InterAct Theatre Company's production of '#therevolution,' from left, Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen. (Photo courtesy of Plate3 Photography/Kate Raines)

In InterAct Theatre Company's production of '#therevolution,' from left, Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen. (Photo courtesy of Plate3 Photography/Kate Raines)

For InterAct Theatre Company – founded 28 years ago to stage works that speak to current issues – Wednesday night marked a new era. Not only did the company move from its former home at the Adrienne on Sansom Street and into a newly created space inside the Drake building, it launched yet another world premiere.

InterAct has become Philadelphia’s world-premiere capital. All four of its productions last season were brand new. And the first production in its comfortable 128-seat Proscenium Theatre at the Drake is the new play “#therevolution,” whose Twittery title is pronounced “Hashtag The Revolution.” The play, about two women whose social-media usage destroys society as we know it, opened Wednesday in a nimbly directed production by InterAct’s producing artistic director, Seth Rozin.

On the opposite side of one wall of the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, Simpatico Theatre Project also opened a play Wednesday night called “The It Girl,” in a second new space — the 75-seat Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake. The show was supposed to open Saturday night, but the storm blew it over to Wednesday. So I’m happy to report that two shows + one single night + one wall between them = heavy soundproofing. Not a peep of “The It Girl,” sneaked through the wall into “#therevolution.” And I assume the reverse was true. Cineplex architects, take note.

The $2-million-plus two-theater project eventually will include a café and space for theater artists to mingle and bounce work among themselves. It already has a nice-sized lobby and a suitable number of restrooms (not a specialty previously at the Adrienne). The project is InterAct’s, but three other theaters and one play-development group have also signed onto the two stages as resident companies. Simpatico is one of the theater companies, and Inis Nua and Azuka are the other two. PlayPenn, a well-established Philadelphia-based project that guides playwrights through new work, will operate there.

Azuka and Inis Nua had been producing at Off-Broad Street Theatre, a space they developed over the past several years in a church on Sansom Street, but the church did not extend their leases. InterAct’s Rozin devised the plan so the new theater spaces at the Drake, on Spruce Street near 15th, would also accommodate them. The result: A consortium of companies inside the Drake’s long-unused ballroom space that for one brief period accommodated dance performances.

It’s fitting that InterAct’s evolution begins with “#therevolution,” a piece about starting fresh and the sort of off-center and risky comic-drama that InterAct audiences have come to expect. The play is by Kristoffer Diaz, who wrote “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety,” a funny-sharp play about a boxer that Rozin directed for InterAct six seasons back.

It’s also apt that InterAct premiere it – Rozin, who has shepherded many a new play to the stage, is currently president of the board of the highly successful National New Play Network. The network’s composed of theaters (InterAct among them) that support new plays and give them “rolling world premieres” in at least three different productions, allowing playwrights to polish the works in between each.

While it’s a new play, “#therevolution” is not listed as part of that project, but Diaz will no doubt give it a shine in future productions and possibly cut some of its 100 minutes, which begin to feel much longer at about Minute #70. Or at least I hope he does. The play is best in its freakishly funny first part – the opposite of the usual, in which a play’s set-up can be its dullest segment. After that, the revolution depicted in this play about the way two women attempt to rule the world becomes like many revolutions: a bit workaday, fraught with conflict about its mission, violent, and ultimately festering with the worst aspects of the order it destroyed.

Is this show, which begins as a goof and proceeds to be serious, supposed to have a message? It seems to want to – the plot and tone become urgent enough, and it makes the case that revolutions in general can be disappointing in the short term, and that social media have a way of magnifying bad ideas. (Jorge Cousineau created the projection design for much of this social media, against Colin McIlvaine’s walled backdrop that protects the revolutionaries from their public.) The play makes its points fairly quickly, then more casually depicts this revolution’s increasing descent. It begins to feel more like a post-apocalypse drama than a revolutionary one. Maybe that’s the point, too – that revolutions are generally apocalyptic — but at the script’s current pacing, “#therevolution” loses its power.

Diaz defines his characters well – he gives us an essentially decent woman called The Revolution (Brett Ashley Robinson), who begins the revolution almost as a crazed quirk; another woman called The Witness (Mary Tuomanen), who tries to be the conscience of the revolution; a fighter (Anita Holland) who represents the gung-ho supporters, and a regular citizen (Stephanie N. Walters) who represents a brainless (and young) public. Richard Chan plays several roles, including the cameraman who helps the leading characters make their revolution a full-fledged media event.

Diaz has something to say with “#therevolution,” especially about the power that sits in all the devices we charge each night and the apps we store inside them. If I ever get to see the play in a later production, and he’s been able to smooth it out and make it more effective, I’ll tweet you. If, in fact, Twitter’s still a current option.

_“#therevolution,” produced by InterAct Theatre Company, runs through Feb. 14 at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. 215-568-8079 or interacttheatre.org.

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