In the March 31 nomination announcement for the awards that celebrate excellence in Off-Broadway theatre, the play about a Texas family snagged one nomination for its 2007 staging by Primary Stages — Outstanding Revival.
The 92-year-old writer is objecting to the categorization, saying it should be considered a new play. Primary Stages agrees. Founder and executive producer Casey Childs told Playbill.com that the play has never been seen in New York City and has undergone substantial rewrites since bowing nearly 20 years ago at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre. It has since had one other regional production, he said, adding that few in the industry would consider the title as stuck in the popular imagination.
Childs told Playbill.com the play was submitted to the Lortel committee as a new play, but acknowledged that the committee has the right to call the work what they wish.
"We submitted it as a new play," Childs said. "We don't produce revivals; we produce new plays. Horton was able to see the play in a different way since [director] Michael Wilson began working with him, and he did a lot of rethinking and rewriting before and during rehearsals. It comes down to, what constitutes a 'new' play? And what is a 'revival'? In many cases, it's good for a playwright to put a play away for a few years and meditate on it."
Lincoln Center Theater, in association with Primary Stages, will present Dividing the Estate on Broadway in fall 2008. Following the nomination announcement, Foote sent a brief letter to the Lortel nominating committee, pulling his title from consideration for the award.
"A mistake has been made in the nomination process," Foote wrote. "I could not honestly accept a nomination for the play as a Revival."
Cynics might say that Foote is hoping to make an impression on this year's Pulitzer Prize committee and next year's Tony Awards administration committee. The Lortels would seem to be setting precedent as to the eligibility or categorization of Dividing the Estate.
Foote is already a winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Young Man From Atlanta.
The Lortel administration committee is not changing its mind.
A letter from the Lortel administration committee to the Lortel nominating committee stated, "You may have received a letter from Horton Foote withdrawing Dividing the Estate from consideration for the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Revival. The Lortel Awards Administration Committee has great respect for Mr. Foote and his play. We respectfully have disagreed with his assertion that Dividing the Estate is a new play…
"Dividing the Estate is eligible for Outstanding Revival. It was clear on the paperwork they submitted to the League that the Lortel Awards Administration Committee had the right to make a final determination as to the categorization of any show. You, the Nominating Committee, have deemed it worthy of the honor of being nominated for Outstanding Revival.
"We know you will continue to vote your conscience for the outstanding work in every category of the Lucille Lortel Awards."
Dividing the Estate premiered in 1989 at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ. Foote is perhaps best known for the property The Trip to Bountiful, which started as a TV play, was made into a stage play and was a famous film. He penned the screenplays to "Tender Mercies" and "To Kill a Mockingbird," as well.
Foote's brief letter to the Lortel nominating committee follows: "To the Members of the Lortel Committee: I have been honored with Lucille Lortel Award nominations and wins. I believe, however, in the case of Dividing the Estate, a mistake has been made in the nomination process. I could not honestly accept a nomination for this play as a Revival. I understand from the Lortel Administration that you are unable to withdraw the play from the nominations, and for that reason I am formally withdrawing my play. Cordially, Horton Foote."
Primary Stages will receive a special Lortel this year for Outstanding Body of Work.