Tim Pinckney’s Sparkling Script & Cast Conjure Hope
by Barry David Horwitz
In honor of World Aids Day on December 1st, “Still at Risk” melds the 80s with today, showing how the intimate battle with AIDS continues and escalates with COVID. “Still at Risk” jolts us right into our role in history.
While Reagan, as President, refused to even utter the word “AIDS,” thousands were dying. Sound familiar? Playwright Tim Pinckney revives the days of ignorant and hateful anti-AIDS activism. He challenges us to take our places in the “casual comedy.”
Lyrically written, beautifully acted, and wittily directed by Dennis Lickteig, “Still at Risk,” which premiered at NCTC in 2018, comes back in dress rehearsal and on line for a well-deserved encore. In a flash of inspiration, set designer Devin Kasper uses stark, white triangles to cast a spell of discovery and modernity.
Pinkney’s play recalls how anti-AIDS protesters blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, and ACT-UP militants threw vials of blood at the Centers for Disease Control. It would be a shame to miss this lovely, funny, and heartwarming play. This sprightly comedy offers revelations about activism that explode from the stage.
So many deliciously dramatic and intense scenes put us on the edge of our seats all the way through. Pinckney invokes familiar, fabulous characters, who struggle to live in this brave new world where we are all “still at risk.”
The main character Kevin (intense Scott Cox) gave up his career as an actor to demand that attention be paid to friends and strangers dying of the mysterious disease. After Kevin and his partner Eric create the Manhattan AIDS Project, talented Eric dies of AIDS. We see Kevin mourning and trying to preserve Eric’s memory, reminding us how survivors of a plague feel.
But, years later, the younger generation refuses to recognize Eric’s groundbreaking work because he pissed off rich donors. Kevin begs the Project’s new CEO, Byron (corporate, cold J. Conrad Frank) to honor Eric at a memorial banquet. But the interview between Kevin and Byron degenerates into a feisty, funny debate. Bryon hilariously blends professionalism and flamboyance as he rejects Kevin’s pleas, with a corporate smirk.
When Eric’s other ex-boyfriend Christopher (stylish Matt Weimer) meets Kevin, the sparks really fly. Elegant, wealthy Christopher coolly condescends to earthy, demanding Kevin. Weimer slyly plays the angles, making Christopher a thrilling, complex character. We see that Christopher, with his charming Southern drawl, is developing a secret plan of his own for the memorial banquet.
Kevin, angry and abusive, enrages everyone, even his old friends. Marcus (determined William Giammona) and Susan (delightful Desiree Rogers) try to help out, but anger prevails. Marcus and Susan comically challenge their frustrated friend Kevin to give up the past—but he’s a hard sell.
Marcus shuns Kevin when he appears unannounced covered in mud. And Kevin quarrels with scintillating Susan, who makes every scene she’s in a delight. Desiree Rogers knows how to fling witty insults and bring down the house!
If you want to understand how the past lives on in the present, listen to the survivors. They are among us and we are all “Still at Risk.” Catch Pinkney’s play on line—before it takes off for the future. It’s a Blast.
“Still at Risk” by Tim Pinckney, directed by Dennis Lickteig, at New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco–Streaming through Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at: nctcsf.org
Cast: Scott Cox, J.Conrad Frank, William Giammona, Desiree Rogers, and Matt Weimer.
Banner photo: William Giammona & Desiree Rogers. Photos by Lois Tema