one in two
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Theater review by Raven Snook
Donja R. Love’s one in two is a raw, intense and surreal exploration of what it’s like to be a queer African-American man with HIV. In an exitless all-white room, as the count on a digital number display zooms ever higher, three black men (Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler and Edward Mawere) wait to be chosen to enact the tale of one man’s diagnosis and how he deals with it. But instead of following directions and taking numbers from a ticket dispenser on the wall, they rebel and ask the audience to decide who will portray No. 1, the man who gets the life-altering news; the other two actors play a game of rock, paper, scissors to determine who takes on the multicharacter supporting roles.
Initially, the play’s tonal shifts and lack of details may confound. Aside from No. 1, a playwright called Donté, the men are given only numbers, not names or fleshed-out personalities, and their scenes ping-pong from raucously comic to overtly political to sentimental. But Love—who wrote the play as he approached the 10th anniversary of his diagnosis, and titled it after a CDC study that predicted that half of gay black men may end up positive—knows firsthand how messy, overwhelming and confusing living with HIV can be. His play channels that experience while serving as a blunt wake-up call that the epidemic is far from over.
On the night I attended, Edward Mawere was a wonderfully sympathetic Donté, even in moments when his behavior puts himself and others at risk. I’m sure one in two feels very different depending on who’s playing that role, which is Love’s ingenious way of humanizing cold statistics. Director Stevie Walker-Webb has readied his intrepid trio to take on any of the parts—quite a feat—and he builds the play’s laughs, anger and tears to a haunting finale. one in two gets in your blood and stays there.
Signature Theatre Center (Off Broadway). By Donja R. Love. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb. With ensemble cast. running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.