The Kennedy Center's brand new American National Theater, formed in hopes of shaking up the arts emporium on the Potomac and the nation's theater scene as a whole, is closing its inaugural production tonight two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Peter Sellars, ANT's 27-year-old chief operating officer, said yesterday that he decided to close Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part I," which has been drawing audiences of about 400 a performance in the 1,100-seat Eisenhower Theater, for both financial and artistic reasons.

"It really wasn't everything we wanted it to be," said Sellars of the production directed by Timothy S. Mayer. "There are more battles to fight, and I thought it was useful to conserve some artillery. I want to put the very best we can in front of the public. You just can never know how something is going to come off."

There will be final performances today, matinee and evening. Sellars said that other than hiring the cast and director, he was "independent" of the production, which opened March 28 to generally unfavorable notices and was to run through April 20. "I did feel that it was badly treated by the critics, and not fairly treated," he added. "We have handed out response cards, and the responses from the audience have been very warm."

Sellars said Kennedy Center chairman Roger Stevens had nothing to do with the decision to shut down the production. Stevens hired Sellars away from a Boston company last summer and gave him carte blanche to shape the new theater.

The Eisenhower will be dark until May 13, when ANT's second production -- James O'Neill's adaptation of "The Count of Monte Cristo," which Sellars is directing -- goes into previews, with a May 18 opening night.

Sellars, who has long been touted as a theatrical Wunderkind, said he informed the cast of "Henry's" demise after the Thursday matinee.

"There weren't any tears," said Patti LuPone, who has been playing Lady Percy in "Henry," and will play Mercedes in "The Count of Monte Cristo." "It was a shock perhaps that it closed as quickly as it did. Everybody who's been in theater has been in this position before. Nobody's going to jump into the Potomac -- unless it gets warmer, and then maybe for a swim."