We had to read the press release twice to realize that the Kennedy Center's Free Theater is, in fact, free -- you do not have to pay to get in. The first performance is this Wednesday, of the much-admired Wisdom Bridge's "In the Belly of the Beast: Letters From Prison." The play, of course, is based on the case of Jack Henry Abbott, a convicted murderer whose case was adopted by Norman Mailer and the New York literary crowd. In July the Free Theater will host Steppenwolf, another Chicago group, and its production of "Streamers," the David Rabe drama.

There are two ways to get free tickets. If you were not one of the 500 or so who showed up for the distribution Saturday, come to the Kennedy Center at least half an hour before a performance (7:30 weeknights, 6 and 9:30 p.m. Saturdays), when unclaimed tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. For "Streamers" the advance distribution is July 20 at 11 a.m. There are only 200 seats in the theater, and you do not get complimentary parking.

Meanwhile, Wisdom Bridge and Steppenwolf will be doing two other shows in the Terrace Theater, and they are not free. "Coyote Ugly" starts Wednesday, and "Kabuki Medea" starts July 9.

"The Count of Monte Cristo" has been extended one week, through June 22, when cast members will scatter to other commitments.