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Timothy DuWhite's Neptune has its world premiere at the HOT! Festival
Throughout July, avant-garde hot spot Dixon Place hosts its annual HOT! Festival: The NYC Celebration of Queer Culture. Since 1992, HOT! has pushed the envelope of LGBTQ performance through eclectic programming that embraces a range of titillations, from good old-fashioned show tunes and kicklines, to kinky burlesque and scintillating confessionals.
More than 100 artists are participating in this year's edition making HOT! a panoply of diverse offerings and outlooks. But the centerpiece is the debut of Timothy DuWhite's solo work Neptune, which was commissioned by Dixon Place. A playwright, poet and performer, DuWhite is also black, queer and HIV positive. Neptune is his semi-autobiographical and erotic fairy tale charting a damaged man's pursuit of love, laughs and security in the revolving puzzle of New York City.
DuWhite says Neptune was inspired by the "hard to love" feeling that haunts many queer men of color. "A lot of what we understand to be our own insecurities are actually a byproduct of a larger system that causes some of us to feel more difficult than others," DuWhite says. "Just me being black, queer and HIV positive -- having those identities in this white supremacist nation -- of course I'm going to feel like I'm more difficult."
Wayne, DuWhite's stage alter ego, is self-loathing, sarcastic and not one to back down from perceived slights. He's constantly lashing out, both at others (uptight people on the subway) and himself (a devastating dance of loneliness at a club). His pain may make him off-putting, but it's shockingly sincere. "Every story, though it's tilted a little bit to fit the genre of a play, comes from real places in my life," DuWhite says. That includes Wayne's foibles in love, particularly a delusional, one-sided affair with a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen manager. Throughout, Wayne unleashes his inner monologue, a fabulously snarky Valley Girl, to pass withering judgment on the world around him.
DuWhite worked closely with director Zhailon Levingston to shape each segment of this social commentary into a visceral theatrical experience that explores the notion of finding "a refuge for 'Hard to Loves'." But that sanctuary may not be on Earth."Neptune is the understanding that the current world is not sufficient," explains DuWhite. "There's no way that I can live my full, black, queer life -- everything I'm supposed to be -- because the world is created in a way to constrain me and all my identity. I can't continue to pretend. I can't continue to reform. I can't continue to try to change what's within the system."
During a revelatory conversation with his father, Wayne is told to find the place where he comes from. But is that a physical space, a spiritual one or something else entirely? Neptune refuses to offer one grand answer. Instead, it's one man's search for acceptance in a place that might not exist while coming to terms with a reality that was not made for him.
With so much to unpack within the spiraling narrative, one thing stands out as vital to DuWhite: "What I really want folks to take away from it is this idea of looking outside of ourselves when it comes to blame, or having shame about how we feel," he says. "I want people to look at the larger context of where those things come from."
Dixon Place's HOT! Festival runs through Saturday, July 28. Find the complete lineup at dixonplace.org.
A dancer and playwright, Juan Michael Porter II has contributed articles to Ballet Review, The Dance Enthusiast, Time Out New York, Broadway World and HuffPost. Follow him at @juanmichaelii. Follow TDF at @ TDFNYC.
Top image: Timothy DuWhite in Neptune. Photo by Mark Hayes.