“More things in Heaven and Earth” About Hamlet and Horatio

Two of the five Michaels in our production of Hamlet are Michael McKeogh who plays Hamlet and Michael Pogue who plays Horatio. Both have earned rave reviews from both critics and audiences, and both took time to answer some questions about creating their roles.OPFT: Horatio is the one person Hamlet can truly unpack his heart to. When asked how they individually and collectively worked with director Lavina Jadwanhi to create their history, they replied:

Hamlet/McKeogh: “We talked a lot about how these two guys found each other as outsiders, Hamlet being the prince of Denmark in an incredibly powerful, nefarious family, Horatio as a young black man in the Jim Crow North/Pre-Civil Right’s era.  They are both outsiders who have to wear a lot of social masks in order to survive in their own world as well as the society in which they inhabit.  I think they bonded over that.”

Horatio/Pogue: “We had group conversations about these two characters and their relationship. Michael McKeogh and I might have slightly different backstories for our characters, but we’ve established collectively is that Hamlet and Horatio are two college gents of the highest sophistication. They ignite each other with verbal discourse. They probably didn’t know each other before college, but the time spent together there was intense in mental stimulation.”

OPFT: Much is made both by Shakespeare’s characters and his scholars of Hamlet’s madness. Of this Michael McKeogh replied:

Hamlet/McKeogh: “Hamlet’s ‘madness” derives from the sudden and sobering realization that his life is a lie.  It reminds me in a way of the movie The Trueman Show.  There is a gamesmanship quality in Hamlet too and so when his entire world is conspiring to keep up the lie, he uses his perceived ‘madness’ to outmaneuver and throw the lie back in the face of those who are deceiving him.  I played Hamlet back in 2001 at Michigan State University when I was 21. I feel pretty lucky to be able to come back to him after having lived a bit.”

OPFT: The opening moments of this production belong to Horatio, a major departure from  traditional productions. This new opening has won great praise. Director Lavina Jadwahni was working with a cutting which not only gave the lines usually spoken in the final seconds by Fortinbras (a character completed missing from this production) to Horatio, but also uses them to bookend the play. The arresting, dynamic, personal delivery of them is something which Michael Pogue created.

Horatio/Pogue: “The opening was something I kinda stumbled upon. It was a way to connect emotionally to the character and liberate myself from the iambic pentameter scansion.”

OPFT: The audience learns what Hamlet has been doing while away in England, but  where has Horatio been in Hamlet’s absence. Things cannot have been too easy for him in Claudius’ empire.

Horatio/Pogue: “I think Horatio is ‘laying low’ in Denmark, or ‘Hotel Denmark’, anxiously awaiting Hamlet’s return or news of his condition. He stays because he cares for him and wants to do more for him, but I don’t think he’s treated well by ‘The Family” in Hamlet’s absence.”
OPFT: When asked what sort of research they did on the dangerous, 1920’s Prohibition Era, Chicago gangland background against which this production is set each had his own report.
Hamlet/McKeogh: “I watched a lot of Boardwalk Empire! I actually think the danger of the world makes our Hamlet fold nicely into the given circumstances and therefor it wasn’t a large shift for me. The Prohibition Era in Chicago historically was incredibly violent. I think the idea of the ‘inheritance of violence’ and the Sisyphean nature of it is one of the main themes that Lavina, myself and the cast are trying to explore in our version of Hamlet.OPFT: And of the influence of Prohibition Michael Pogue replied:

Horatio/Pogue: “There was a huge belief in several groups that alcohol consumption caused demonic behavior – wickedness. My character only drinks on one occasion in the show, but I try to keep that in mind.”

OPFT: Another influential background is not historical but environmental— performing out of doors.

Horatio/Pogue: “This is not my first time performing outdoors. I did a couple of shows in a Shakespeare repertory a few summers ago. That was my first time. Though I wouldn’t describe myself as outdoorsy, performing outside is amazing. Your lungs taking in fresh air as you perform is very gratifying.”

OPFT: Our Hamlet has also acting al fresco before this outing.
Hamlet/McKeogh: This is my first outdoor production in Chicago.  When I was in undergrad at Michigan State University, we had a summer festival behind the theatre building on the Red Cedar River.  Working outside is great, but it does present some interesting obstacles.  A lot of improvising with weather and wild life.”
OPFT: Each had words of thanks for the loyal and enthusiastic Festival Theatre audiences:Horatio/Pogue: “It’s a good feeling performing in my hometown. I’ve wanted to work at OPFT for a long while. I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Hamlet/McKeogh: “Thank you for the support and please, please tell your friends and family to come see our show!”
OPFT: The rest is anything but silence. Until July 19 it’s Shakespeare’s immortal words set to sweet and low Jazz tunes, punctuated by gasps, laughter, and the growing groans and growls as character after character gets “whacked”, and all concluding in crescendos of thunderous applause.