7 Playwrights Win KenCen Grants for New Works

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Seven new plays - ranging from a children's tale about a girl trapped in a magical place to a story about a despondent man who encounters three drunken, violent, unemployed loggers - were awarded grants last night from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays.

The winners were announced by Kennedy Center President Lawrence J. Wilker at a dinner ceremony at the KenCen last night, with playwright August Wilson on hand as the evening's guest speaker.

The grants, funded by the Kennedy Center and American Express, totaled $282,500, almost matching last year's figure of $290,000 (when only four plays were given grants). The money goes to the theaters that will premiere the new works, and the winning playwrights each get a $10,000 stipend.

More theaters were included this year, but they got less money. In 1995, the top award was $90,000 and the average grant was more than $58,000; this year, the top award is $40,000 and the average grant is $30,000.

The different figures do not signal a change in policy, Wilker said, noting that the plays and their demands vary from year to year.

In another change, only one play was given the Roger L. Stevens Award, a $2,500 playwright's prize honoring a promising new work. (Six playwrights won last year.) The Stevens winner is Regina Porter for her "Tripping Through the Car House," a surreal play involving an 11-year-old black girl who encounters Clint Eastwood and Carmen (the seductress of opera lore) in her house in Savannah, Ga. The play will debut at Woolly Mammoth in Washington next spring.

Winners of the big prizes: * New York City's Classic Stage Company received $20,000 to stage Migdalia Cruz's "Another Part of the House," a reworking of Federico Garcia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" told from the point of view of Bernarda's mother.

* David Henry Hwang, author of "M. Butterfly," will have his "Golden Child" staged by the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif. …