GIVEN THE popularity and prestige of "The Office," it certainly wouldn't have been surprising if Kate Flannery's first project after last month's series finale would have been some Judd Apatow blockbuster comedy movie or a starring role in another TV series.
But, instead, the Ardmore native has decided to launch her post-"Office" (as opposed to post office) career on stage in Philadelphia.
Wednesday, Flannery opens in "Love, Loss and What I Wore" at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The show, written in 1995 by the late Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia, runs through July 7. It's a comical look at romance from the feminine perspective. Among Flannery's four co-stars is TV fixture Joyce Van Patten ("As the World Turns," "Desperate Housewives").
"I'm from Philadelphia, I have a lot of family in Philadelphia, it just seemed like a no-brainer," reasoned Flannery, who, on "The Office," hilariously portrayed Meredith, the Dunder-Mifflin account exec who lacked even a passing acquaintance with social filters.
The comfort zone the project affords her extends beyond geography. "I did 'What I Wore' in New York a couple of years ago and it was a really good experience. It just made sense," she continued.
"It just seemed like a soft place to land for me. I do have a strong theater background, and I do love performing for a live audience. And it was a great opportunity to work with the same director and some of the same producers."
It's not surprising to hear a TV or movie actor laud the theater for its ability to provide the chance to work in front of an audience. That is a main reason that actors like Al Pacino and Tom Hanks (currently on Broadway in another Nora Ephron piece, "Lucky Guy") work for a fraction of their movie fees. But it's really no big deal for Flannery.
"I've never stopped being in front of a live audience," she offered. "I have a comedy act I do regularly, and I do a ton of benefits. It's not like I've missed a live audience." Working live, she added, is "always honing your skills. It's [using] slightly different muscles than when you're in front of a camera."
As Daily News gossipistas have noted for years, the Los Angeles-based Flannery is no stranger to Philly, as she returns regularly to spend time with family and friends. Recently, she was invited to speak at her alma mater, the University of the Arts; the next day, she received an alumni award from the school during the graduation ceremony.
It was, she admitted, a "surreal" experience because, "I was not the most likely to be asked to come back and speak to the students. I worked hard at school, but I was not the lead of every play. I was just hustling to try and find my place in that world."
So where might we spot Flannery during this latest trip home?
Monk's Cafe, on 16th Street in Center City, for one, a place she always visits to see bartender Dan Leo, with whom she worked there about 30 years ago. And you might spy her doing up a cheesesteak on South Street.
"I still like Jim's," she said, referring to the venerable cheesesteakery at 4th and South streets. "There's nothing like being in that upstairs room at Jim's checking out all those crazy people."
(You might also catch her at the recently opened Steve's Prince of Steaks, at 16th and Chestnut; we tipped her off to our personal fave and she seemed eager to try it).
As for what she'll be doing once "Love, Loss and What I Wore" concludes its run, Flannery offered the ever-popular "there are things in the works but I can't talk about them" disclaimer. Nonetheless, these appear to be bountiful days for Flannery.
"There's a lot of possibilities," she said. "Obviously the future's bright because of 'The Office.' I feel my sense of possibility has definitely opened up."
Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 460 S. Broad St., show times vary, $44, 215-985-0420, philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.
Something 'Wicked' this way comes
The Broadway smash "Wicked" returns Wednesday to town for a six-week run at the Academy of Music.
The show, which runs through Aug. 4, provides a musical backstory to "The Wizard of Oz" by suggesting how the Wicked Witches of the East and West became that way.
Starring as The Wizard is veteran entertainer John Davidson. The cast also includes soap opera stalwart Kim Zimmer ("The Guiding Light").
Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, show times vary, $175-$40, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.