Conference Call: The cast of "Still At Risk": Jonathan Walker, Robert Gomes, Ryan Spahn, Amy Hohn, Christopher J. Hanke
Theater For The New City puts on some really great theatre. Some shows, like the new play, Still At Risk, written by Tim Pinckney & directed by Carl Andress, is running as a showcase production, meaning, it’s not open for review.
But, I was lucky enough attend the show’s opening night & speak with the cast which includes Robert Gomes, Jonathan Walker, Christopher J. Hanke, Ryan Spahn, & Amy Hohn.
Still At Risk “revolves around “Kevin, “ a surviving activist from the front lines of the AIDS crisis, who finds himself struggling to find his purpose in a modern age of greater gay rights, openness and visibility. It gives a powerful look into the personal and political hazards of rewriting the past, and one man's attempt to move forward.
Still At Risk plays at Theater For The New City through March 31. Click here for tickets!
1. You play "Kevin" who goes on quite a journey in the show. I love where he starts and when he ends. What did you relate to most about “Kevin”? Like "Kevin," I lived through the AIDS crisis, but I didn't go "Kevin's" route. I identify with his anger, his frustration & his sense of loss. The role kind pulled me up short too because at the time I remember ACT UP, which "Kevin" was very involved in, I was not.
Even though people knew I was gay, there was still this fear, that if it got out I was gay, I'd get stigmatized as an actor (and there was a lot of that going on at the time) and not get hired.
So, I relate all aspects of this role, what "Kevin" is angry about, but also what he complains about.
2. In this day and age of PREP & PEP, how do you feel AIDS is perceived? Do you feel it still has the same urgency it once did? There is a longer monologue I have in the play about this. I do feel worried that people don't know enough about what happened in those early days. We were fighting so that young people today wouldn't have to worry about AIDS.
My mindset is still in the reactionary thing that "Kevin" is, but I think people see it as manageable. I'm not sure there is enough awareness today about being really extra careful.
3. Like “Kevin” who is trying to find his way in the contemporary gay world, how are you finding your place & purpose in this ever changing world? I think it's about living honestly, being open. It's about passing down history. There are guys in the cast who didn't go through what I went through. I tell them stories of what happened and they are like "Oh my God."
I think the best thing I can do is live as openly as possible. Just be who you are.
1. Your character, "Marcus," goes through so much. I love his compassion & ability to forgive, but I also love how at one point he’s like “Oh, no, I’m not sure I can’t hang out with you anymore,” when he’s talking about “Kevin” and the way he was treated. It’s very human. it’s about boundaries and long-term relationships. When there is a long-term relationship, and we all go through this, there has to be changes. I’ve had many friends in my, long-term, where the door comes down & it’s like you know what, I can’t go there. Sometimes you need time and distance or you need to just go, “Hey, this is what’s happening.”
The great thing is “Marcus” is opening to do that & that “Kevin” was available to him to do that because relationships have to move forward in time because otherwise they stagnate and die.
Thank you for appreciating that. I’m so glad you picked that up.
2. What do you relate to most about “Marcus”? I sort of say sometimes, “Marcus,” and this is hard for people who haven’t seen the show, but he’s sort of a mix between “Marcus,” “Susan,” and “Kevin.” He is a careerist. He’s an actor. A professional and really successful. He has a tender heart. It’s that soft place, his compassion, I really wanted to find, but not push it, just find it at the right moment.
3. What is one characteristic of “Marcus’” that you are glad you yourself don’t possess? His aloneness. He’s alone & he’s cheating. The fact that he couldn’t be there for his boyfriend in his greatest time of need. I have a wonderful wife, companion, lover, friend, everything in Jennifer Van Dyck.
4. Like “Kevin” who is trying to find his way in the contemporary gay world, how are you finding your place & purpose in this ever changing world? What’s interesting about “Marcus” is that in 2005, he’s out & I really respect that about him. In 2005 that wasn’t necessarily the way, but he was never one to be out waving a flag around. He was doing his business. He had his boyfriend. He didn’t march in parades. He was just single-minded on his career, his relationship, & his family. You can fault him for certain parts of that and you can praise him for certain parts of that.
5. There are some dark secrets revealed in the show, what’s the darkest secret you are willing to reveal about yourself in this interview? There’s a line in the play, “You know, sometimes you need a fucking quarter pounder with cheese & fries.”
So, one night after tech, I came home and there is a McDonald’s on the corner (and I hadn’t been to a McDonald’s in about 35 years), and I went in & ordered a large fries, & then ate it at home with a glass of wine.
I didn’t do the quarter pounder with cheese because it was about midnight, but I did get a large order of fries and I took that home I ate that son-of-a-bitch right down.
Christopher J. Hanke:
1. I like your character's journey in the show. He's someone who came into a lot of money and was struggling beforehand. He's using the money for something really good. The way he comes around at the end is amazing. What do you relate to the most about "Christopher"? First of all, his name is Christopher, so that’s easy. Second of all he is from Dallas and so am I, so that’s secondly easy.
Seriously, I’m Southern and there is a vibe about being raised in the South. There is a good nature to people raised in the South. I think “Christopher” has a real sense of goodness & purity deep down that allowed him to take care of his partner dying of AIDS for the last seven months of his life & then to later take his fortune and do something right with it. Even though he can be a Tennessee Williams, catty southern belle at moments, when he has the opportunity to do the right thing he does. I relate to being presented with opportunities where I maybe feel one thing, but I want to do the right thing.
2. What’s one characteristic of his you are glad you yourself don’t possess? I think that he is a compartmentalizer in that he & “Kevin” share the same lover, but they never interacted before. “Christopher” didn’t go to the funeral, he didn’t go to his partner’s memorial because he didn’t want to interact with “Kevin.” I’m glad I don’t share that. I think I would have jumped in the deep end and said, “Let’s deal with this. Let’s talk this out. It sucks. But let’s figure it out.” “Christopher,” the character, doesn’t do that.
3. There are some dark secrets revealed in the show, what’s the darkest secret you are willing to reveal about yourself in this interview? When I had the opportunities to be truthful about my private life early on in my career as a young actor and I look back now and think I really missed an opportunity there. I feel I could have helped a lot of young gay kids.
4. I do have one question not related to Still At Risk. So, I loved your guest starring role on Devious Maids. What was it like to work with Susan Lucci? She’s so funny and sweet. A real gem to work with. She felt like a family member, just so at ease with her. She was great.
5. What’s one funny story you can share with me about working with her? When I found out that I got that part, I was like, “Are you kidding me? I get to work with Susan Fucking Lucci?” It was a dream come true. First of all she is very tiny. She weighs like 2lbs. And I remember I had a kissing scene with her. After the first take, she said, “I think you can kiss me harder.” And I said, “Really? Harder than that?” She said, “Yeah, harder.” And I was like, “Gosh, I’m afraid I’m going to break you.” She was a real delight.
1. I love your character. When we first meet "Byron," he comes across as a bit of a prick, but by the end, he has this great transformation, and he really hears what "Kevin" is saying. What do you relate most to about “Byron”? As an actor, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with agents and publicists whom I’ve assumed things about based upon their interaction with me.
It’s been very nice to get into this character and find the levels as to why this person is behaving a certain way towards me. I’m a sensitive actor, so I might perceive someone as being rude or sharp, that had hurt my feelings, but in reality, this person is trying to pursue their ultimate goal and in doing so it might leave a little bit of scar unintentionally. This role has helped me be a little more compassionate about that.
2. What’s one characteristic of his you are glad you yourself don’t possess? I’m glad I don’t work in an office.
3. Like “Kevin” who is trying to find his way in the contemporary gay world, how are you finding your place & purpose in this ever changing world? I would say the thing that’s hardest for me is related to the acting profession. There’s more of a light being shined on gay experiences, and the stigma of playing gay is being released so now everyone is interested in playing these exciting gay roles. As a gay actor, I’m often only seen for certain gay roles and if the stigma of straight actors playing gay roles is being released then I feel the stigma needs to be released on the other side, and gay actors should be allowed to play straight roles. I feel I’m constantly battling that when auditioning.
4. There are some dark secrets revealed in the show, what’s the darkest secret you are willing to reveal about yourself in this interview? It’s not dark, but it’s fascinating. My step-parents used to be married to each other. There was an affair on one and the other two spoke about the affair and tried to unpack what was happening with their spouses and then those two fell in love and every got remarried.
5. You just finished doing Daniel’s Husband at The West Side theatre and now you are doing Still At Risk, is there another gay play after this? There’s not a gay play. There is a play with queer characters in it, but I don’t play one of them. I’m very excited about it. It’s written by a dear friend of mine & she is aware that that is something that is not always an option for openly gay actors.
1. This was a great show. I love the arch that your character goes through. It’s a lot. I think all the characters have quite an arc. Some are more dramatic than others, but my character you might not think has much of an arc at first, really does have one.
2. She is one of the few characters who really interacts with everyone. What do you relate to most about “Susan”? It’s funny because she is kind of someone who’s not forgotten where she has come from, but she has moved on to a new life, in every sense of the word. Her personal life & political life are very different from where they used be. I think for as much as she laughs at “Kevin” and thinks “You big goofball,” it reminds her that she did used to care about certain things that she’s sort of forgotten about. That’s sort of important.
It’s like me coming back and doing a play again. I haven’t done a play here in New York in a while. I’m reminded of what’s fun about it and why I like about doing a play here.”
3. What’s one characteristic of hers you are glad you yourself don’t possess? Her buttons get pushed a little more easily than mine do. The fact that her buttons are pushed fairly easily makes it more easy to see who she used to be, who she was. You can kind of see how she used to be the kind of woman who would get up and scream at every injustice. She’s set off very easily, which is fun to play, but I’m glad I’m not that way in real life.
4. Like “Kevin” who is trying to find his way in the contemporary gay world, how are you finding your place & purpose in this ever changing world? I haven’t figured it out. There are so many things I don’t 100% understand, especially as person who is growing old. It’s much more complicated than it used to be. We have to figure out a way for gender identity to be okay for everyone. Teach people it’s not a big deal. You are who you are. When I see the injustice, I think, “What a terrible thing to have to go through.” People had these struggles when I was young too, but we didn’t talk about it. People had to keep these huge secrets, but, that did create some great art because people had these burdens they had to get out so they created a masterpiece or wrote a masterpiece about the struggles they couldn’t talk about.