Written and Performed by Kevin (Womack) Neighbors
Directed and Developed by Jessica Lynn Johnson
Solofest is in full swing at the wonderful Whitefire Theatre. And how grateful am I!?!
Kevin (Womack) Neighbors’ show, “Versatile,” is and I quote, “a mixed bag of identity, emotion and complexion.” A search for self, as a gay, mixed-race man.
It’s a powerful subject. Taken to maximum effect here, with mixed media, mixed tech and gloriously mixed metaphors. The resulting show is as blended as Kevin, which I suppose it exactly the point. It’s such a profound way of bringing us in to his world. Catapulting us from humorous character guides, to rap, to deeply felt narrative and beyond. Kevin is awkward and shy, extroverted and driven, heartfelt and inquisitive. Everything he needs to know about who he is, we, the audience, see so clearly.
So the mirror he seeks is us. Or maybe that’s too straightforward, or even too risky. But the story of this show is of his life, his family, his struggles to fit in where of course he feels so keenly that he never can. This struggle is the show, and a part of what gets in his way to being whole. To forgiveness and acceptance and recognizing himself as the warrior he needs to be.
He plays his mother, empathically portraying her heartbreak at the loss of her three kids as they are taken from her by social services. And his adopted father, sharing the long journey to his and his brother’s adoption and his strange, sad, paternal duality. Social workers, google, weird, random people fascinated with a light-skinned Black boy living with a White family. A myriad of people passing through his life.
His journey is punctuated by a series of animal characters, baboon, hyena – all Lion King-esque – calling him back to his African roots. The long sweet and sour story of his life, full of painful memories and trials, loss and the terrible realization of systemic racism hidden everywhere, even in his own family. Growing up in the last couple of decades where there seems to be no shame. Openly racist politicians and public figures, bigoted religious leaders opposing gay marriage, more and more spectacle surrounding equality of all kinds. Becoming a human and growing up in such a divisive and explosive environment. How can anyone find a foothold in this continually shifting, loosely held land. An avalanche of truths at every turn. Revelations unwanted, disturbing realities un-interred daily.
My daughter often reminds me how different a world she is “becoming” in than I did. It’s easy to forget this. I lived a charmed childhood, a privilege that until more recently I took completely for granted. My husband’s existence wrought from an opposite world, and as things ignite in this country, especially in the past years, his experience of it is so acutely different to mine.
Kevin (Womack) Neighbors is a White Black man. Beautiful, eloquent, gifted and torn by his experiences, unsurprisingly. He leaves his soul bare on stage. He tries to put inside us his experience, as if it were possible to take his life in his hands and literally show us every minute, every moment, so we might understand and thereby give him the comfort of that. He aches his way through this brilliant and deeply moving show. He entertains with an actor’s pain, stripping away all the pretense and giving us raw what needs to be seen.
Solo shows are always revelatory. At their best they teach us as they share. This show teaches us that there are some gentle souls who have suffered far more than us. That have had a hundred lives in one. That deserve to be admired for their courage and their tenacity and their ability to rise above. This story is such a life and Kevin (Womack) Neighbors is a talented and compelling actor who communicates brilliantly his heartfelt and significant beliefs through this intricate and tireless piece of theatre. Bravo!!
You can find out more about Kevin and his brilliant work here :
Also, this is another show developed and directed beautifully and thoughtfully by the sublime Jessica Lynn Johnson