Davis McCallum (Director) directed the award-winning New York premiere of Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale at Playwrights Horizons (Callaway Award nomination). Other recent productions include London Wall (Mint Theater Company), Henry IV (Pearl Theatre Company), Quiara Alegria Hudes’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Water By the Spoonful (Second Stage, Hartford Stage Company), Gabriel Kahane and Seth Bockley’s February House (The Public); Samuel D. Hunter’s A Bright New Boise (Partial Comfort, Drama Desk nomination) and Five Genocides (Clubbed Thumb); Michael Mitnick’s Sex Lives of Our Parents (Second Stage); Gregory S. Moss’s punkplay (Clubbed Thumb); Charles Mee’s Queens Boulevard (Signature Theater); Hudes’s Elliot: A Soldier’s Fugue (P73, Pulitzer Prize finalist); Henry V (New Victory); Jane Eyre, The Tempest and The Turn Of The Screw (The Acting Company). Regional: The Guthrie, The Old Globe, Humana, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Williamstown, Alliance Theater Company, Chautauqua Theater Company, the O’Neill, Playmakers Rep, Two River, New York Stage & Film, others. Other: Drama League Fellowship (2001), Phil Killian Fellowship (2003), NEA/TCG Career Development Program (2007), Boris Sagal Fellowship (2010), Princess Grace Honoree (2011). He has taught directing at Princeton University and the New School for Drama. He trained at LAMDA and studied at Princeton and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is the Artistic Director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival (www.hvshakespeare.org).
Photo by Zack DeZon
SKILLFUL AND MOVING, Samuel D. Hunter’s writing strikes
keen, ringing notes.
—David Cote, Time Out New York
T.R. Knight is TERRIFIC in his best stage outing since Noises Off.
Tim Sanford: Would you say that idea of one character looking for a home, in the context of other characters who are homeless, rootless—was that the starting point for Pocatello?
Samuel D. Hunter: Yes. Because the play I wrote for Headlong was fifteen or twenty minutes long. When I had the idea of carrying this into a play, I knew that to sustain that, there would have to be someone at the center who was pushing against that idea of disconnection and loneliness. And that became the central tension of the entire play.
I grew up in a town in Idaho of about 20,000 people (big for Idaho, small for almost everywhere else). One hundred fifty years ago, my great-great grandfather was the first postmaster there, and 15 years ago, I was a cashier at the local Walmart, my first high school job. My relationship to my hometown is just that—existing somewhere in the tension between small-town pride and parking-lot desolation. And this tension has been working its way into my writing ever since I left.
The Great American Family play looms large in our theater history. Some might argue it is its starting point: Long Day’s Journey into Night, Death of a Salesman, Awake and Sing. Arthur Miller’s seminal 1956 essay, “The Family in Modern Drama,” acknowledges this primacy. Yet the essay also observes that, even in 1956, the realistic American family play was beginning to encounter some resistance. Part of this resistance is stylistic, as evidenced by the poeticism of The Glass Menagerie or Our Town. But the resistance was also social. The notion of the ’50s nuclear family was already just a myth in the ’50s. The father figures in The Glass Menagerie or A Raisin in the Sun are long gone, and the offspring in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf never arrives. By 1988, as if to amend his earlier essay, Miller observed in an interview, “Nowadays the family is broken up, and people don't live in the same place for very long.” However, the American drama still wrestles with the specter of family, even as its social and stylistic permutations become increasingly varied.
In October, 1929, W.K. Henderson, a wealthy Shreveport businessman who inherited his father’s company, got fed up with the rapid proliferation of chain stores in his hometown and went on air at the local radio station KWKH. “American people, wake up!,” he cried. We can whip these chain stores. We can whip the whole cock-eyed world when we are right... I know the chain store game. I’ll be your leader. I’ll whip hell out of them if you will support me. We can drive them out in thirty days if you people will stay out of their stores.”
In August, with rehearsals for Pocatello still a few months away, I spent a week with Sam Hunter on the Estonian island of Hiiumaa, where he was workshopping a new play at the Baltic Playwrights Conference. At the end of the week, on a bus back to the mainland ferry, Sam caught me up on what he’s been up to since The Whale played at PH in 2012, and how distance has informed his idea of home.