Other Desert Cities is closing this weekend, which means if you haven’t seen it already it’s your last chance to catch John Hoogenakker in his role as Trip Wyeth, the laid-back younger son in a family of politicians, artists, alcoholics and depressives. But this certainly isn’t John’s first Goodman appearance—he was in last season’s The Iceman Cometh, and has appeared on the Albert stage in The Good Negro and Rock ’n’ Roll, among others—and it’s safe to say that it probably won’t be his last. We caught up with this prolific Chicago actor inbetween performances for our Backstage interview.
1. Place of birth and/or hometown? Charlotte, North Carolina.
Other Desert Cities
2. First professional role/ production you were in?
The first professional gig I had was a couple months after I graduated from DePaul; I played Scarus in Antony and Cleopatra, which was actually the first show Chicago Shakespeare Theater did in their new space on Navy Pier. It was a pretty amazing experience because of all the fine actors that were assembled for it. You had Kevin Gudahl, Lisa Dodson, Greg Vinkler, Larry Yando, Scott Parkinson and Brad Armacost, just to name a few. I had some wonderful technical training in college, which I continue to draw on to this day, but I credit that production as the beginning of my professional education, and that’s still going on!
The Iceman Cometh
3. Favorite professional role/production you were in?
They all stand out for various reasons, and I am truly blessed to have had the experiences that I've had, particularly those I've had in my current production with the cast, the director and the play Other Desert Cities. But for the sake of mixing it up, I'd have to say The Iceman Cometh, from last season. When it comes to Eugene O’Neill, there's no one more knowledgeable or capable of attacking the work than Robert Falls, and the folks he brought together for that show amounted to nothing short of a dream team, in my book. Seeing Nathan Lane climb that mountain everyday was inspiring—one man carrying such a huge production on his back and doing it with such strength and consistency; Brian Dennehy’s power on stage, and his stories and humor off stage; Stephen Ouimette’s heart breaking humanity; and a cast of actors that I will be humbled all my life to have been a member of. That show damn near broke me, but I would do it again and again in a heartbeat.
4. Dream role or production you hope to be in in the future?
To play Hamlet, here at the Goodman, before I get too old.
5. Role you know you'll never get to play because of your age/sex/race but would love to play in an alternate universe, and why?
Wow, well if it could be anything, I guess it'd have to be playing Bob Marley in a show about his life in the ’70s. And obviously then to play him in the subsequent movie version, as well. Just to perform those songs and pretend to be one of the coolest souls ever to wear a body... yeah, Bob Marley. Definitely.
6. Production or role you've experienced as an audience member that left you speechless?
The first time I saw The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip hop version of The Comedy of Errors conceived and written by Gregory and Jeffrey Qaiyum, I was blown away. The break-neck pace and the razor sharp wit combined with rap music, and all of it delivered flawlessly by guys who were my own age (23 at the time) was the coolest most creative thing I'd ever seen. Just as a side note, I was later chosen to join the cast, and that was also one of the greatest experiences I've ever had as an actor.
7. Biggest on stage flub and how you handled it?
Every now and then in the careers of most actors, there will come a performance when there is so much stuff happening in life off stage that it becomes hard to focus on what is happening on stage. At times like this a common mistake is to run lines in your head so as to be prepared when it’s your turn to talk. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is you get so focused on the future that you are quite literally not present in the world the play, and when it does become your turn to speak you have no idea what you're supposed to say. Can you tell I’m stalling because remembering an actual instance where this happened to me is almost too painful to revisit? I was doing Stones in His Pockets, a two hander, with Will Clinger, and I went up in the same place on two different performances. The first time he jumped right in and helped me, but when it happened the second time (probably due to some kind of mental block because of the first time) he just sat there and stared at me, kind of like a father looking at a son who has just used too much of the wrong color of self-tanning cream. What did I do? I stood there feeling like an orange idiot until Clinger felt he had made his point and decided to help me.
8. Pre- or post-show ritual?
Shows differ depending on how many folks you're sharing a dressing room with and how much room you have to spread out and do your thing before hand, but for this one starting at about 3 hours before the show I won't eat anything heavy, I'll just drink water, and I typically do about 15 to 20 minutes of yoga. Then, while getting into costume, hair and makeup, I'll and run some of the wordier passages of my role.
9. Favorite thing about working in Chicago?
As it happens, I not only work here, I also live here, and I love this city up and down and inside out. I love my neighborhood, I love all the wonderful restaurants, street festivals in the summer, and I love going to the forest preserves and the Morton Arboretum with my wife and kids. But in terms of being an actor in Chicago, I feel like I am part of a family, and not just in a corny “Kumbaya” sense, but in a, real honest-to-goodness “every time I go to an audition, show or gig, everybody there is already my friend” sense. That's gotta make us some of the luckiest actors in the world.