Tell us about the moment when you said to yourself: “I just have to do this!”
Michael E. Hammond: I woke up at 4 in the morning. And probably all the usual clichés applied: “jarred awake,” “bathed in sweat,” “alone,” “heart racing.” But those are clichés, so ignore them. But I thought: “What about a play where a fallen priest must bring contrition to a condemned man, in the last hour of his life?” Camus dealt with this subject, but my play would dwell on it for an hour and a half.
Why is it important to you to do this play now?
The play is fiction, obviously. But the prisoner is based on a real person. And the priest is based on a real person — a person who hurt a lot of boys. Including, in a relatively small way, me.
What story are you telling?
This is NOT “movie of the week.” This is about two people, in a cell, battling over issues of sin and forgiveness, heaven and hell, life and death. They are trapped in a nether-world where these are the only questions that matter.
What have you been learning about yourself during rehearsals?
That no one likes the playwright.
The reason Shakespeare is constantly performed, despite his lack of talent, is that there is no possibility that he will arrive and ruin the production. Hence, Caesar as Trump, Othello as a white man, Romeo as a New Yorker.
If you won a Tony for this show, who would you thank?
All of my relatives — out to first cousin — are dead. But it would be a moot point, because I would have died of shock.
What do you want the audience thinking about when they leave your show?
I want them to laugh at the unlaughable — pity the unpitiable — contemplate the unthinkable.
Michael E. Hammond went to school in St. Louis and in Greenwich Village. He has written four plays — one re-imagining a play by Aeschylus and another (9 Parables) rewriting Joyce’s Ulysses, but with animals. This is his first full production.
Earlier this year, he received a medal of knighthood at the Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C. by order of the president of Poland in recognition of his “outstanding achievements in supporting democratic changes” in that country.