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Playwright Zimmerman earns MacArthur grant

CHICAGO — The sole legit practitioner amid a crew of physicists, neuroscientists and historians, Chicagoan Mary Zimmerman has been awarded a so-called “genius grant,” the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced Tuesday.

Cited for her abilities at the dramatic adaptation of “seemingly untheatrical source material from classic world literature,” Zimmerman will personally collect $240,000.

“It’s a no-strings award, so I could go casino gambling,” the director. “But one does feel responsible for the money.”

An associate artist at the Goodman Theatre as well as an assistant professor at Northwestern University, Zimmerman, 37, already has access to significant levels of financial support. But her work – which first came to prominence in tandem with the rise of the Chicago-based Lookingglass Theatre Ensemble – has always been avowedly non-commercial.

Past Zimmerman projects include “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci” (Goodman Theatre); “The Arabian Nights” (toured by Lookingglass to Los Angeles and other markets) and a more recent experimental piece based on the work of Proust and produced in Chicago by the About Face Theatre Co.

Zimmerman is increasingly in demand by resident troupes, and she’s spent time at both the Huntington Theatre in Boston and the Berkeley Rep. Zimmerman says the cash windfall will allow her to travel to some of the countries whose literary heritage she has been dramatizing to wide critical acclaim. She may also help fund future work at Lookingglass, including Zimmerman’s upcoming adaptation of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”

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