In the mid 19th-century, a group of social elites attempted to found a national theater. It didn't last long. But more than a century on, we have a reasonable facsimile of a properly comprehensive stage. There are places with more innovative lineups and riskier rosters (P.S.122, St. Ann's, Soho Rep), but as a home for both the rising and the recognized (to say nothing of that Shakespeare guy), the Public Theater is unparalleled. In addition to the work in its larger spaces—which includes debuts by Tony Kushner, Sam Shepard, Suzan-Lori Parks, David Henry Hwang—the Public makes itself available to less-established theatermakers, with programs such as Under the Radar, the Emerging Writers Group, and the Public Lab. Plus, the low-priced Public Lab tickets and the free ones to Shakespeare in the Park mean that they've made theater available to a larger audience than at most of the major houses. 425 Lafayette Street, 212-539-8500, (10003)

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