Samuel Hunter, ensemble playwright at Victory Gardens, named MacArthur Fellow

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Playwright Samuel D. Hunter is among the recipients of the 2014 MacArthur “genius” Fellowships.

Just days before his play “Rest” is set to open at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre, the New York-based playwright Samuel D. Hunter, 33, has been named as one of the recipients of the 2014 MacArthur “genius” Fellowships. So you can bet it will not be a very restful week at all for Hunter, who is one of Victory Gardens’ “ensemble playwrights.”

Nor will it be quiet for the 20 other exceptionally creative people in a wide range of fields who also were named 2014 MacArthur Fellows, recipients of the so-called “genius award.” Each receives a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years.

Cited as a dramatist “who crafts moving portraits of unlikely protagonists, and explores the human capacity for empathy through the prism of his characters’ struggles,” Hunter, who was born and raised in a small Idaho town, sets much of his work in just such a place. He homes in on “the nondescript confines of staff break rooms, or cramped apartments, or retirement homes,” all inhabited by ordinary people in search of more meaningful human connections.

The MacArthur citation also noted that “despite the stark realism of his settings, Hunter leavens his plays with humor and compassion for the lives he depicts while juxtaposing the banal circumstances of his characters with literary allusions and larger themes of faith and doubt. Eschewing irony and judgment of his characters’ decisions, Hunter’s quietly captivating dramas confront the polarizing and socially isolating aspects of contemporary life across the American landscape.”

“Rest” is receiving its Midwest premiere at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln, where it is being directed by Joanie Schultz and features a cast that includes Mary Ann Thebus, McKenzie Chinn, Amanda Drinkall, Matt Farabee, Steve Key, William Norris and Ernest Perry Jr. It will run through Oct. 12.

One of three new plays by Hunter to arrive during the 2013–2014 season (the others are “The Few” and “A Great Wilderness”), “Rest” is set in an Idaho retirement home. And it considers the plight of three remaining octogenarian residents and bare-bones staff who are hit by a record-breaking blizzard just days before the home is to be shut down. Schultz previously directed Hunter’s best-known play, “The Whale,” the award-winning drama about a morbidly obese writing professor unable to leave his apartment.

Hunter received a B.F.A. from New York University, an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and an Artist Diploma from Juilliard’s Playwrights Program. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a member of Partial Comfort Productions. In addition to Victory Gardens, his plays have been produced at Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Seattle Repertory Theatre, The Old Globe, and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

Other Fellowship recipients from the Illinois area include:– Mark Hersam, 39, of Northwestern University in Evanston, a materials scientist who draws on techniques from a variety of fields in investigations of the physical, chemical and biological properties of nanomaterials, offering new promise for applied uses.– Tami Bond, 50, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an environmental engineer working on unraveling the global effects of black carbon emissions, or soot, on climate and human health, whose work is playing a key role in understanding the complex relationship between energy and climate change.

– Tara Zahra, 38, University of Chicago, a historian of modern Europe who combines extensive archival research with broad sociohistorical analysis of notions of nation, family, and ethnicity to construct an integrative, transnational understanding of events in 20th century Europe.

For a complete list of the 2014 MacArthur Fellowship winners visit www.macfound.org.

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