By: Paulanne Simmons
July 29, 2018: Whatever our ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, many of us want to tell our story. The question is how can we tell that story in a way that is meaningful and moving to others? Timothy DuWhite, who is black, gay and H.I.V. positive, does this in his solo show, Neptune, through the strength of his formidable acting and inspiring physicality. He is well directed by Zhailon Levingston. But DuWhite’s reliance on familiar tropes robs his story of nuance and complexity.
DuWhite begins his story with an episode in the subway in which he finds himself arrested after screaming “Fuck you! Yeah I get it. I’m gross, huh, just the nasty HIV infected faggot” at an unsuspecting woman sitting across from him. It ends with a long meditation in which he promises his brother he will make a place for him and his family.
In between we meet his father who was “always a mystery,” but manages to offer advice to his troubled son: “I said it doesn’t matter where a person is born. It matters where a person is from.” (Turns out he’s from Neptune, New Jersey.)
We also learn about DuWhite’s encounter with a “cute manager nigga at Popeyes” and an unnamed lover who came into his room, “breath heavy with party and laughter and booze.” And there are the various inane people in his Uber, all wrapped up in their own lives, and a man who was born H.I.V. positive and runs a workshop called “HIV and The State: Coalition building beyond the condom.”
All these events are told with humor (DuWhite has the gift of mimicry) and metaphor (“His desire for my conversation felt like a fork and knife parting its meat.”). Poetic images abound. But in the end, all the elements are depressingly familiar: a well-meaning but often absent father, clueless and sometimes brutal police, an alcoholic but loving mother.
For those who want to believe policemen are mostly racist, poetry pours from the downtrodden and anger brings redemption, Neptune will be reassuring. Still, the job of theater is not to make us comfortable with our beliefs but rather to encourage us to question them.
It’s not clear how much of DuWhite’s story is autobiographical. But he certainly seems to be playing into our expectations of what a gay black man experiences in New York City. DuWhite knows he has an audience. Now he should take his impressive talents and go in search of a new, more challenging one.
Neptune runs through July 28th at Dixon Place, 161A Chrysie St., www.dixonplace.org.