Washington theater: Cutting-edge productions often come from small companies

By Lavanya Ramanathan and Stephanie Merry
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 16, 2010; WE27

In Washington theater, the most exciting seat in the house is no longer inches from the orchestra or in the rarefied air of a balcony: It's a folding chair.

In tiny black-box theaters and other borrowed spaces, nimble companies are pushing the envelope, sometimes leaving audiences raw, but never bored. Three-year-old Molotov Theatre Group has made a splash (literally) by reviving the French tradition of gory Theatre du Grand Guignol. Constellation Theatre has created epics on a small stage without sacrificing a trace of grandeur. And Taffety Punk has cast both Romeo and Juliet as women.

These smaller theaters may be taking risks, but audiences are hardly gambling with their cash; shows often cost little more than the price of a movie and popcorn. Most companies charge about $20 a ticket, and several also offer pay-what-you-can performances to get buzz going, which may explain why audiences have been flocking to non-mainstream prodctions. In a survey conducted by the Helen Hayes Awards, many of the small companies reported that their attendance jumped 50 percent or more from 2008 to 2009.

On the following pages, we profile a handful of companies on the cutting edge, bringing new plays and new points of view to Washington area stages. And you don't have to wait until the Capital Fringe Festival to see them. A slew of productions are scheduled for the coming months -- just allow us to show you to your seat.

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