By Donja R. Love; Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb
Produced by The New Group
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 1.12.20
The Pershing Square Signature Theater, 480 West 42nd Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 12.28.19
Jarryl Dobson, Leland Fowler, and Edward Mawere in one in two. Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: This production offers a powerful look at the struggles of HIV-positive gay black men.
The New Group's new production, one in two, takes its title from the sad statistic that one in two queer black men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Reflecting the heaviness of this fact, numbers are ever present throughout the production. Audience members are told to take a number from a ticket dispenser in the lobby, all of which display 1, 2, or 3. Inside the theatre, a large digital counter takes up the back wall of the austere, fluorescent-lit white stage, tracking the rising number of infections. The characters don jerseys emblazoned with 1, 2, or 3, wondering what fate will await them based upon the number, wondering if they will be chosen.
The bare white space depicted in the set (designed by Arnulfo Maldonado) seems to be some sort of waiting room. Are the men already dead and waiting in Purgatory, or is the waiting room symbolic of the anxious waiting that precedes one's HIV diagnosis? A clear interpretation is never overtly defined, only alluded to. The play's main character, Donté, retells the story of his own diagnosis. When told he is positive, he cannot see his life moving forward and is inconsolable. His struggle to accept this diagnosis is so painful that he loses years of his life to drinking, having anonymous sex, and lying in bed in agony.
Donté isn't completely alone in his suffering, despite being ghosted by his "kinda ex-boyfriend" after sharing the news. His mother tries to look after him, and he visits an HIV-positive support group. Despite this support, Donté's pain consumes him; when he isn't home in bed, he is at the bar, drunkenly hitting on the bartender and fellow patrons. The depression is ultimately too much to bear, and as Donté contemplates suicide, another inhabitant of the waiting room pushes him to imagine other endings for this familiar story.
While playwright Donja R. Love ends the piece on a dark note, its mission is clear: to motivate the audience to change the grim statistic of the title. In one apt moment, Number Two notes that the characters in Angels in America and The Normal Heart don't look like him, showing how gay black men have been left out of many of the narratives related to the history of HIV/AIDS. The playbill (given out after exiting the theatre) is filled with a letter from director Stevie Walker-Webb and information on HIV/AIDS resources and services. There are also baskets with ribbons and buttons, in the hope that we will share our newly heightened awareness with others.
one in two is a powerful, emotional work with strong performances. The actors (Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler and Edward Mawere) swap roles at every performance; unsurprisingly, they show an impressive ability to tackle multiple characters. The bright white set emphasizes the pain and uncertainty of the characters' fates. As Number Two notes, “One in two is an epidemic.”
(one in two plays at the Pershing Square Signature Theater, 124 West 43rd Street, through January 12, 2016. The running time is 85 minutes without an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 2 and 8. Tickets are $18 - $63 and are available at thenewgroup.org or by calling 917-935-4242.)
One in Two is by Donja R. Love. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb. Set Design by Arnulfo Maldonado. Lighting Design by Cha See. Sound Design by Justin Ellington. Stage Manager is Jakob W. Plummer.
The cast is Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler, and Edward Mawere.