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Get a Laugh
DC Improv (1140 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-296-7008; dcimprov.com) has all the makings of a classic comedy club—dim lighting, a modest stage, and often great entertainment. The subterranean space attracts some of the biggest names in standup, such as Dave Attell and Greg Giraldo, who both graced the stage last year. Upcoming headliners include Aisha Tyler and Jamie Kennedy. A tip: Unless you want to become joke material, avoid the front row.
Washington Improv Theater (at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St., NW; 202-204-7770; washingtonimprovtheater.com) puts on hourlong shows Thursday through Saturday nights during its season. The company has six regular ensembles and occasionally hosts other local and out-of-town troupes. A typical show features two ensembles creating on-the-spot skits for 30 minutes each. For brave wannabes, the company also hosts occasional improv jams, where you can get onstage with a team of strangers and try improv yourself. WIT players and other seasoned veterans provide direction. Jams run about 30 minutes and cost $10 a person.
At the AFI Silver Theatre (8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-495-6700; afi.com/silver), you stand equal chances of seeing George Clooney and Cary Grant on the big screen. The Deco-cool movie house shows new releases, but the bigger draws are its retrospectives. This year, look for great movie romances and the works of Orson Welles.
The area’s two Landmark Theatres—E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row (555 11th St., NW, 202-452-7672; 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-7273; landmarktheatres.com)—marry the comforts of a modern movie theater (Twizzlers, espresso) with the marquee of an indie art house. If you’re curious about a Cannes breakout or an obscure documentary, start here. The E Street location shows selections from many of Washington’s film festivals
Dinner and a movie take place simultaneously at the Arlington Cinema ’n’ Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike; 703-486-2345; arlingtondrafthouse.com), where attentive servers bring you burgers, pizza, wraps, or dessert during the show. There are also cocktails, a respectable wine list, and close to three dozen beers. The hodgepodge of seating—chairs, round tables, long bars, love seats—makes the experience a little like watching a movie in a friend’s basement. You won’t catch the latest films—all are second run—but tickets cost as little as $1.
With its glowing marquee and old-style box office, the Avalon Theatre (5612 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-966-3464; theavalon.org) has 1920s movie-house charm. The cafe’s fresh sandwiches and salads, pastries, and specialty ice cream are a cut above standard movie fare, and the drink menu includes wine, beer, and espresso drinks—all of which you can take into the theater.
Drinks flow from a full-service bar at AMC Mazza Gallerie’s Club Cinema (5300 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-537-9551; amcentertainment.com), which serves two small theaters on most Friday and Saturday nights. Call ahead to make sure it’s open and find out which movies are playing in the Club Cinema. Tickets are $13.75, and you have to buy them in person with an ID that shows you’re at least 21.
At Busboys and Poets (2021 14th St., NW, 202-387-7638; 1025 Fifth St., NW, 202-789-2227; 4251 S. Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-379-9757; busboysandpoets.com), it’s the poets who make the hangout a great place to spend an evening. The restaurant/performance space hosts a number of monthly events. At the original 14th Street location, Nine on the Ninth presents nine poets at 9 pm on the ninth of the month, and you can watch competitive poets take the stage for the 11th Hour Poetry Slam the second Friday of every month. All three locations host weekly open-mike nights plus occasional readings and lectures.
Shakespeare might be the forte of the folks at DC’s Folger Library (201 E. Capitol St., SE; 202-544-7077; folger.edu), but the “alms-basket of words,” as the Bard phrased it, gets floated to some of contemporary fiction’s finest each year through the PEN/Faulkner reading series. Held in the library’s oaky Elizabethan Theater, the series—which features E.L. Doctorow, Walter Mosley, and Isabel Allende this spring—is an escape from the din of BlackBerrys and cable news, a can’t-miss for story lovers and closet novelists. The Folger also hosts poetry readings and lectures.
Imagine Hamlet without his soliloquy. Synetic Theater (2788 S. Arlington Mill Dr., Arlington; 800-494-8497; synetictheater.org) did just that. Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili’s productions combining dance, drama, mime, and music have wowed audiences and won several Helen Hayes Awards. This spring at DC’s Lansburgh Theatre, they’ll bring their “art of silence” to Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra.
At Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (641 D St., NW; 202-393-3939; woollymammoth.net), artistic director Howard Shalwitz isn’t afraid to let the odd, the absurd, or the just plain silly shine. MacArthur “genius” fellow Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone played here before it ran off-Broadway. But that was one of Woolly’s tamer offerings. This month, Chicago’s Second City brings Barack Stars: The Wrath of Rahm to the theater.
Operating in a converted warehouse, Washington Shakespeare Company (601 S. Clark St., Arlington; 703-418-4808; washingtonshakespeare.org) has created a Stanley Kubrick–inspired Richard II and staged edgy interpretations of other classic works. It also takes chances on new plays, such as Julie Jensen’s Two-Headed, about a Mormon massacre in the 1800s, and local playwright Allyson Currin’s Learning Curves. Onstage now is an adaptation of Molière’s The Miser by David Ball, in which WSC reimagines the protagonist as a forerunner to a Wall Street CEO.
Keegan Theatre (at Church Street Theater, 1742 Church St., NW; 703-892-0202; keegantheatre.com) brings the Irish dramatic sensibility to American audiences. Some of the plays produced are by Irish writers; some are American plays that echo what Keegan calls the “spare, unpretentious style” that characterizes contemporary Irish theater. Either way, Keegan is a good place to see first-rate work.
For a night your date is unlikely to forget, try a show at the Palace of Wonders (1210 H St., NE; 202-398-7469; palaceofwonders.com). Pasties, shrunken heads, and taxidermied curiosities abound at this bar/museum/freak show in DC’s Atlas District. The tiny stage offers a
host of performers each week, from vintage-style burlesque to sword swallowers and magicians. Regular acts include the Lucky Daredevil Thrillshow and the Weirdo Show & Wasabassco Burlesque. Patrons willing to pry their eyes away from the entertainment can look at the Coney Island–inspired collection of oddball artifacts. A unicorn and a five-legged dog are popular attractions.