The Guthrie Theater will open its 2012 season -- the company's 50th anniversary -- with a three-play festival featuring work by the British writer Christopher Hampton.

As part of the event, Hampton has been commissioned to write a new play, "Appomattox," based on the 2007 opera that he wrote with composer Philip Glass.

The celebration is similar to the Tony Kushner Festival in 2009, which also dedicated all three Guthrie stages to a single writer.

Audiences might know Hampton best as a screenwriter. He adapted his play "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" for the film "Dangerous Liaisons," the 1988 Oscar winner for best adapted screenplay. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007 for his adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel "Atonement," which starred James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. A new film, "A Dangerous Method," about the birth of psychoanalysis, is due out this fall, with Knightley and Viggo Mortensen.

For his stage work, Hampton won two writing Tony Awards for Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Sunset Boulevard." He also co-wrote book and lyrics for Frank Wildhorn's "Dracula, the Musical." In addition to "Liaisons," his plays include "Total Eclipse" and "Tales From Hollywood."

Hampton's name is also familiar for translating the plays of Yasmina Reza into English. Her "God of Carnage" is now playing at the Guthrie.

"Appomattox," the opera, was commissioned and performed by San Francisco Opera in 2007. Jumping off from the treaty ceremony between Grant and Lee, the work touched on a century of race relations. Hampton said Tuesday that he wanted to revisit those themes in a dramatic play. He envisions a first act taking place at Appomattox and a second act 100 years later, during the civil rights era.

"I'm still kicking it around," he said. "The thing about plays is that you have to get deep into writing them before they tell you what they're about. You start on instinct."

Director Joe Dowling said the new play will probably be staged on the Guthrie's proscenium. He and Hampton are considering choices for the thrust and studio. When the Guthrie celebrated Kushner in 2009, the musical "Caroline or Change" was put into the thrust, and a short series of shorter Kushner plays were performed in the studio.

"We have some front-runners," Dowling said of his Hampton choices. "But we still have time to get the package together."

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299