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American works missing in action from theater slates

Lincoln calls lineup 'cyclical'

Sometimes these things just happen. But when two of New York’s biggest not-for-profit theater companies announce 1999-2000 seasons sans new American plays, the legit world has to wonder: Has Lincoln Center Theater and the Roundabout gone the way of Broadway?

“I’m not particularly concerned,” said LCT artistic director Andre Bishop, who was literary manager and artistic director at Playwrights Horizon for 17 years. “My feeling is at this point in my life, between here and Playwrights Horizon, I’ve produced more new American plays than most people have had hot dinners. These things are cyclical.”

To make his point, Bishop revealed that after importing Rebecca Gilman’s new play “Spinning Into Butter” from the Goodman Theater next summer, Lincoln Center has almost nothing but new Yankee works skedded for its 2000-2001 season. They include Jon Robin Baitz’s “Ten Unknowns,” Wendy Wasserstein’s “Old Money” and John Guare’s “Chaucer in Rome.”

“We very much wanted to end this century with new American musicals of various types,” said Bishop. Besides the upcoming “Marie Christine” by Michael John La Chiusa and the John Weidman/Susan Stroman dance play “Contact,” the artistic director mentioned such recent LCT tuners as Jason Robert Brown’s “Parade” and William Finn’s “A New Brain.”

Legit turnabout

As for the Roundabout’s 1999-2000 sked, which contains no new American works, artistic director Todd Haimes explained, “Last season, we had three new American plays,” which included Beth Henley’s “Impossible Marriage,” Paula Vogel’s “The Mineola Twins” and “Hurrah at Last,” by Richard Greenberg. The 1998-99 season “wasn’t meant to be a new American play season,” said Haimes. “It just worked out that way. It depends on what plays come to fruition.”

According to Haimes, Warren Leight’s new play, “The Glimmer Brothers,” had been skedded for the current season. “But Warren felt he wanted to work on it more before coming to New York, which is why that slot for Reza’s ‘The Unexpected Man’ was open.” The new play by Yasmina Reza (“Art”) will see its American debut at the Roundabout’s Gramercy Theater on Feb. 10.

Plenty of product

Meanwhile, new American plays in the coming season are hardly in short supply at the Public, the Vineyard, Playwrights Horizon, MCC Theater and Manhattan Theater Club, among others. In the 2000-2001 season, these five not-for-profits — all of which have a long history of staging new American plays — will be joined in that mission by the Signature Theater, which usually commits its entire season to revivals and reworkings from one author’s body of work, with a new play by that writer sometimes included.

Signature’s current season is devoted to the plays of Maria Irene Fornes. To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, artistic director James Houghton announced a change of policy for the Signature’s 2000-2001 season, which will feature newly commissioned works by Edward Albee, Horton Foote, John Guare, Romulus Linney, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard.

“They’ve all had seasons at the Signature devoted to their work,” said Houghton, who anticipated that the program of new plays would run beyond the company’s 10th anniversary season into 2002. Except for Foote’s “The Last of the Thorntons,” all works in the series are presently untitled.