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America's hippest theaters? They're just off-Capitol Hill

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Say Washington, D.C., and it conjures up visions of monuments and museums, not 80 theaters staging 300-plus productions a year in the metropolitan area.

The nation's capital has built up a vibrant theater scene that appeals to a wide range of demographics. The result? No longer are playwrights, actors, directors, and designers deserting the area for New York.

"People ask me, 'Aren't you sorry you're not in New York?' " says Michael Kahn, who arrived here 14 years ago to take over the artistic direction of The Shakespeare Theater - and has made it America's leading classical theater. "I say, 'Can you tell me where I could have done "Timon of Athens" or "Pericles" or "Camino Real" or "Don Carlos" in New York? They're being done here, and we're filling theaters!' "

Indeed, the theater scene is one of tremendous variety: Among the offerings right now, for example, are Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Tazewell Thompson's "Constant Star," Federico Garcia Lorca's "Blood Wedding," and a bilingual production of Manuel Puig's "El Beso de la Mujer Arana" ("Kiss of the Spiderwoman").

In D.C., theater-going is in. According to a 2000 audience survey conducted by the League of Washington Theatres (LOWT), an association of nonprofit professional theaters in the greater Washington area, almost 1 in 5 of the respondents (19 percent) go to the theater 6 to 9 times a year. Better yet, the survey shows that a whopping 46 percent go somewhere between 4 and 14 times a year.

Says Ann Norton, LOWT's president, "There are so many different types of theater in D.C. - a veritable smorgasbord - that there is no excuse not to go."

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