Playwright says his 'Estate' is new; not a revival

Playwright Horton Foote has sent a letter to the nominating committee of the Lucille Lortel Awards withdrawing his play “Dividing the Estate” from consideration for the trophy for play revival, arguing “Estate” should be considered a new play.

“I believe … in the case of ‘Dividing the Estate,’ a mistake has been made in the nomination process,” Foote wrote. “I could not honestly accept a nomination for the play as a Revival.”

The formal objection looks like a preemptive bid to persuade the Tony nominating committee to consider “Estate” a new play when the show becomes Tony-eligible next season. The play is set for a Broadway slot later this year, with Lincoln Center Theater presenting in association with Primary Stages, the troupe that produced the show last fall.

Controversy stems from the fact “Estate” is almost 20 years old. Show preemed at the McCarter in New Jersey in 1989 and has since been produced regionally.

But legiters in Foote’s camp contend that because Foote has since done rewrites on the script, and because the show had never been seen in New York before the fall 2007 Off Broadway production, “Estate” should be considered a new play.

The Lortel administration committee responded by standing by its original nomination. “‘Dividing the Estate’ is eligible for Outstanding Revival,” the admin group wrote in a letter to the Lortel nomination committee. “It was clear on the paperwork they submitted to the League (of Off Broadway Theaters and Producers) that the Lortel Awards Administration Committee had the right to make a final determination as to the category of any show.”

Play revival was the only category in which “Estate” was nominated for a Lortel.

Primary Stages founder and exec producer Casey Childs backs Foote’s claim. “He did a lot of work on it,” he said. “He reconceived. We consider it a new play.”

Primary Stages, the Off Broadway troupe whose mission statement focuses on new legit fare, was separately honored by the Lortels this year for outstanding body of work.

Noms for the Lortel Awards, which honor Off Broadway shows, were announced Monday. The Foote controversy isn’t the first wrench in the works: On Tuesday word went out that one of the announced nominees, helmer Daniel Fish (“Paradise Park”), had actually not gotten a nod. Annie Dorsen (“Passing Strange”) had received one instead.

Foote (“A Trip to Bountiful”) has had a long legit career that includes a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for “The Young Man from Atlanta.” As a screenwriter, he has won Oscars for “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies.”

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