Whenever I hear that Donja R. Love has written a play I rush to go and experience it. This is one very gifted playwright and I adore how passionately and compassionately he writes about the issues of Black queer men. Love, a queer Black man who was diagnosed with HIV 10 years ago, personally went through a lot of hardship due to his diagnosis. This beautifully accomplished playwright does exactly what a playwright should do, he utilizes writing as part of his healing process, and he’s generous in sharing that healing with others. He also looks to bring issues to the forefront with his courageous productions. In his latest “one in two,” presented by The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street, he examines the epidemic of Black queer men contracting HIV in the
Love takes the damning statistic given by the CDC in 2016 and puts human faces to it. These men are given names rather than numbers, and in the Playbill are only referred to as the person on the left, the person in the middle and the person on the right. There are three actors, three Black men who are telling this story. The man who gets picked to play No. 1 is the man who has been diagnosed with HIV and the other men play the people he encounters, from the nurse at the hospital when he is first diagnosed, to his mother who tells him that she warned him about his lifestyle and advises him not to tell anyone because people won’t be kind. They also play No. 1’s ex-boyfriend, who he speaks with and finds out is not HIV positive. (He also finds that once his ex-boyfriend knows, he stops taking his phone calls.)
When a writer is dealing with a truth that is real to him, you can tell it from the storyline. In the case of this play, Love shares in the Playbill that, at the tenth anniversary of his HIV diagnosis, he became very depressed and thought about suicide. He was asked to speak to a young man who had been recently diagnosed and was not taking the news well. In “one in two” he tells his story, to an extent, and this young man’s story, and comes to realize they are not alone; this story is a common reality that Black queer men diagnosed with HIV experience.
Love tells the story through absurdity, humor, and some shocking scenes while maintaining reality and honesty in the storyline. Love’s play shows his anger at the statistics that among Black queer men, one in two will be diagnosed with HIV, though it’s 1 in 4 for Hispanic men and much lower for white queer men. Love is shouting to the rooftop with this play that this is an epidemic that needs to be addressed. This problem needs to be acknowledged and dealt with; stop ignoring it! Love lets you know that not only do Black Lives Matter, but Black queer lives with HIV matter as well. In the program he also provides information for organizations that are out there with resources for queer and bi folk to utilize.
Love makes the story something that everyone can understand, as he takes his characters from young boys, playing innocent games of curiosity about their bodies, then them coming into who they are, but then feeling frightened, alone and suicidal when this diagnosis has been given. This play also demonstrates that HIV is not a death sentence, but one’s reaction to it could be. But, the biggest message is that this statistic—that one in two Black queer men will be diagnosed with HIV—doesn’t have to stay a reality.
The three actors who tackle this production are amazing and include Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler and Edward Mawere. This stunning production is directed by Stevie Walker-Webb and will play through Jan. 12, 2020. For more information, visit thenewgroup.org.