Samuel D. Hunter’s (Playwright) plays include The Whale (Drama Desk Award, Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, GLAAD Media Award, Drama League and Outer Critics Circle nominations for Best Play) and A Bright New Boise (Obie Award, Drama Desk nomination for Best Play), and his newest plays include The Few, A Great Wilderness, Rest, and Pocatello. He is the recipient of a 2014 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship, a 2012 Whiting Writers Award, the 2013 Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, the 2011 Sky Cooper Prize, and the 2008 PONY/Lark Fellowship. His plays have been produced in New York at Playwrights Horizons, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Clubbed Thumb and Page 73, and around the country at such theaters as Seattle Rep, Victory Gardens, South Coast Rep, Williamstown Theater Festival, The Old Globe, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Denver Center Theatre Company, Marin Theater Company, and elsewhere. His work has been developed at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, the Ojai Playwrights Conference, Seven Devils, and PlayPenn. A published anthology of his work, including The Whale and A Bright New Boise, is available from TCG books. He is a member of New Dramatists, an Ensemble Playwright at Victory Gardens, a member of Partial Comfort Productions, and was a 2013 Resident Playwright at Arena Stage. A native of northern Idaho, Sam lives in NYC. He holds degrees in playwriting from NYU, The Iowa Playwrights Workshop, and Juilliard.
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.