Christopher Durang’s “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” one of the best reviewed new plays of 1999, will not transfer to an Off-Broadway commercial theater — at least, not this year, as originally planned.

David Stone has withdrawn as producer of the dark comedy about a vacation in which rape and dismemberment are as commonplace as chardonnay and charcoal. After the play had its world premiere in March at the not-for-profit Playwrights Horizon, Stone raised the $550,000 necessary to mount the Nicholas Martin-directed production at the Minetta Lane Theater this month or last.

When “Thwak,” the venue’s current occupant, continued its run well into the autumn months, however, the producer of “Full Gallop” and “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Broadway decided against going forward with his intended “Betty” production.

‘Thwak’ stays put

According to Stone, “Thwak” would have had to give notice at least three weeks ago “for us to get into the theater before Thanksgiving. Unless it is an immediate transfer (from a not-for-profit theater) you don’t want to open a show between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he reasoned. Stone’s production of “Anne Frank” did open in December 1997. “But it was Broadway and a high profile production,” he said.

Due to its moving set and a cast of nine, the “Betty” production required a large Off Broadway theater. The Minetta Lane seats 399. “No other theaters of that size are available,” Stone said. “It’s what this theater crunch means; sometimes you have to wait. Sometimes if you wait too long, it just doesn’t happen. I feel terrible.”

“We’ve never had this happen here before,” said Tim Sanford, artistic director of Playwrights Horizon, “and yet David is the only producer who was really serious from the beginning. Talk is cheap. But he stepped forward and got the financing.”

Stone could have moved the play immediately from Playwrights Horizon to the Minetta Lane in May before the “Thwak” producers signed to open there.

Obstacles loomed

“We would have had great momentum in May, but we also would have been competing with too many other things,” admitted Stone. “At the time, Broadway was filled with plays.”

And as for an early 2000 opening, the producer said he could not hold together the Playwrights Horizon cast. Momentum from the spring’s very upbeat reviews may also dissipate, he feared. “Too much time would have passed. Unfortunately, we didn’t land in my window.”

Durang said Stone always insisted upon a fall opening for his play. “David was upfront about that, and I never debated it because I just thought we’d find a theater,” he said.

According to Durang, he and his agent, Patrick Herold at Helen Merrill Ltd., have just begun shopping the play elsewhere. “We had a meeting the other day to decide if we should release it (to regional theaters) or try one more time to find a producer for a New York production. We’re ringing on doorbells,” said the writer. “A lot of people are assuming its still happening (with Stone).”

Herold confirmed, “We are actively pursuing another New York producer.”