Neil LaBute, a prominent American playwright and screenwriter known for his portraits of misanthropic and misogynistic men, has been abruptly cut off by one of New York’s leading nonprofit theaters.
MCC Theater, a prestigious Off Broadway company, announced Thursday that it was canceling an upcoming production of Mr. LaBute’s latest play and terminating his tenure as its playwright-in-residence, effective immediately.
The theater’s leadership repeatedly declined to explain the reason for its action, but on Friday, Blake West, its executive director, said, “We’re committed to creating and maintaining a respectful and professional work environment for everyone we work with.”
Mr. LaBute did not respond to a request for comment.
The action is a startling development in the 15-year relationship between the nonprofit theater and the polarizing playwright: MCC has been a longtime champion of Mr. LaBute’s work, which often raises uncomfortable questions about sex and power and leaves viewers debating whether Mr. LaBute was critiquing or reveling in the bad behavior of some of his protagonists.
Mr. LaBute, 54, is best known for “In the Company of Men,” a 1997 film about men’s cruel treatment of a deaf woman, as well as the play “Reasons to Be Pretty,” which was presented on Broadway in 2009 and was nominated for the Tony Award for best new play that year. He is also the showrunner on “Van Helsing,” a series which was recently renewed for a third season by Syfy.
The play that MCC canceled, “Reasons to Be Pretty Happy,” was the third in a trilogy that included “Reasons to Be Pretty” and “Reasons to Be Happy”; the new play, about an encounter between two couples who were once friendly, was scheduled to be presented next summer. Leigh Silverman was attached as the director, but she withdrew from the project several weeks ago.
Over the years, MCC has presented 10 plays by Mr. LaBute, including “Some Girl(s),” “Fat Pig,” “The Mercy Seat” and, most recently, “All the Ways to Say I Love You.”
The split with Mr. LaBute comes at a key moment of transition for MCC, which was founded in 1986 and has presented many much-praised plays on its stages. The company, which currently produces work in a rented theater in the West Village, is building a new theater in Midtown West, and is in the process of trying to raise $35 million for the project.
The company’s leadership has also been grappling with the national reckoning underway over sexual harassment. Two of the company’s three artistic directors also run a prominent casting agency, Telsey and Company, which late last year fired a casting director over accusations of sexual misconduct toward actors.