Terry Teachout has fun with the "American Theatre" website and aggregates the yearly figures to give us the top 11 titles produced by TCG member theatres around the country between 2000-01 and 2009-10.
I've taken the liberty of appending one bit of data to his list, though. The play's cast size. You'll see why...
1. "Proof," by David Auburn (54 productions). CAST: 4
2. "Doubt," by John Patrick Shanley (48 productions). CAST: 4
3. "Art," by Yasmina Reza (45 productions). CAST: 3
4. "The Drawer Boy," by Michael Healey (36 productions). CAST:3
5. "Rabbit Hole," by David Lindsay-Abaire (33 productions). CAST: 5
6. "Wit," by Margaret Edson (29 productions). CAST: 9 (but really 5 + 4 "extras", right?)
7. "I Am My Own Wife," by Doug Wright (26 productions). CAST: 1
8. "Crowns," by Regina Taylor (26 productions).CAST: 7 + 2 musicians
9. "Intimate Apparel," by Lynn Nottage (25 productions). CAST: 5
10. (tie). "The Glass Menagerie," by Tennessee Williams (23 productions) CAST: 4
& "The Laramie Project," by Moisés Kaufman & Tectonic Theater Project (23 productions) CAST:8 (but flexible?)
Before we get to any analysis... The Drawer Boy??? Ok, I guess I'm stumped again. (I hadn't heard of the '09-'10 winner Boom either.) It's a Canadian play that got a boost in the US from a Steppenwolf Production back in 2001. Just further proof there really is a vital production circuit outside NYC.
So you see my point about the cast sizes, I assume. Teachout does, too. And to be fair, this doesn't mean all these theatres are only producing plays with 4 or 5 actors. These are just the plays that likely occupy the "new play slot" in a subscription series. (Except for Glass Menagerie, of course, which I would prefer to just bump down to #11 for argument's sake.) Companies will still splurge on a cast of 10 or 12 for, say, The Crucible--already downsized, of course. But remember that many theatres budget a season based on number of total AEA actors employed. So for every Crucible or Shakespeare you do, you have to balance that with a Proof. And it probably makes more sense in these calculations to splurge for the surefire popular favorite rather than on the new play no one's heard of. (In other words, if you want to do a big new play, like say Farnsworth Invention...no Shakespeare for you this season!)
So, yes, this is pretty depressing news for playwrights--or at least those who aspire to ever write more than multi-character solo shows or dueling-monologue plays. (Yikes, just had the shivering thought that A Steady Rain will be next year's biggest regional hit!) But I do believe a theatre will do a new play the Artistic Director feels passionately about no matter what the cast size--it's just a big hurdle to get over. And you might get it done at one theatre. But you'll never be a Proof.
Think of it like the R-rating hurdle for moviemakers. You can go ahead and release your movie with an R rating, but it will already be guaranteed to play in X percent fewer theatres and rake in y-percent fewer ticket sales than if it were a PG.
In other words, you take your chances.