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Meet Samuel D. Hunter, theater's newest genius and a Time Out New York favorite

By David Cote

This morning playwright Samuel D. Hunter awoke to learn that he was a genius—or rather, he was one of 21 recipients of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a genius grant. According to the release, the MacArthur Fellows receive “a no-strings-attached stipend of $625K with no stipulations or reporting requirements, allowing recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.” For Hunter, that vision will probably take place in his home state of Idaho (where most of his plays are set) and detail—with heartbreaking insight and empathy—lives of quiet Midwestern desperation.

We always knew that Hunter was a smartie. We got there first with Helen Shaw’s 2012 profile

Choice quotes:

On experimental urges
“When I was writing in college, I thought I wanted to be Richard Foreman; I wanted theater that exploded theater. And experimental downtown theater is still my favorite. But the way my mind works, it doesn’t start with form; it starts with content. I was trying to shoehorn what I wanted to write into abstraction, and I was just winding up with puddles.”

On graduate school in Iowa
“I felt alone. But then I met my now-husband there in my second year, and—this is the first time I’ve articulated this—that’s when the plays really started to be about people on the fringes, about isolation, but also connection.”

On facing fears
“When my mind goes, ‘Don’t write about that part of yourself!’ I know I have to write it.”

We’ve reviewed his work all along, most recently Adam Feldman’s glowing notice of The Few: “Those who [know Hunter’s work] will spot variations on many of the same elements and themes—from the isolated, self-destructive antihero to the deployment of old text as a bittersweet plot device.” I was wowed by his obesity-themed family drama, The Whale: “tragedy in a minor key, about a man torn between flesh and spirit.” And Helen was first to notice, with her 2010 look at A Bright New Boise: “This clear-eyed comedy about faith’s meager harvest will still lift your heart.”

What’s next for Hunter? Besides blowing the bulk of his cash on a spectacularly debauched weekend in Vegas that would furnish material for his next piece if only he could remember it, we imagine this warm, industrious writer will get back to, well, writing. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, buy a play or, in November, head to Playwrights Horizons, which will present his Italian-restaurant-set new piece, Pocatello.


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