Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Playwright Samuel D. Hunter Receives MacArthur "Genius" Grant

Samuel D. Hunter
Samuel D. Hunter, a playwright originally from Idaho known for his "moving portraits of unlikely protagonists," is part of the 2014 class of "fellows" awarded $625,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation fellowships, often called "genius grants," are awarded annually to a group of artists, scholars, scientists and other innovators deemed worthy of recognition and support.

At Playwrights Horizon in New York, Shuler Hensley starred as the 600-pound outcast at the center of Hunter's best-known play, The Whale. That production earned Hunter a Drama Desk Award and a Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play as well as Drama League and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Play. Hensley played Charlie, a morbidly obese online writing instructor working with the novel Moby Dick in both personal and professional contexts. In Chicago, Dale Calandra took on the role in a Victory Gardens production called "beautifully devastating" by Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones.

The play paints Charlie as a sensitive, intelligent person stuck inside pounds and pounds of flesh. As he tries to mend his broken relationships with his ex-wife and daughter, he is only too aware that death is right around the corner for him due to physical problems caused by all that excess weight.

A newer play, Rest, is in performance at Victory Gardens Theater till October 12. Like The Whale and A Bright New Boise, Rest is set in Hunter's native Idaho. This time, he focuses on a soon-to-be-shuttered retirement home in the middle of a blizzard, when the last three residents and a skeleton staff try to cope with snow blowing off their doors. Victory Gardens calls Rest "a tender and heartbreakingly funny play about life's unexpected beginnings and endings." You can see more about Rest here, on VG's Facebook page.

Hunter received an undergraduate degree from New York University in 2004, an MFA from the University of Iowa in 2007, and an Artist Diploma from Juilliard’s Playwrights Program in 2009. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and an ensemble playwright at Victory Gardens. In addition to Victory Gardens and Playwrights Horizon, his plays have been produced at venues like South Coast Rep, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

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