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Off-Broadway Review: The New Group’s “one in two” in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December29, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: The New Group’s “one in two” in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December29, 2019)
Written by Donja R. Love
Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The title of Donja R. Love’s play “one in two,” currently running in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, is reflective of the alarming 2016 study released by the CDC, which projected that “one in two Black gay and bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime.” Trapped in a stark white waiting room, three young Black men re-enact an absurdist “game” of “which one of us will it be?” The men – Person on the Left, Person in the Center, and Person on the Right – have reenacted this waiting game repeatedly, perhaps like Sisyphus, starting it over as soon as it seemingly ends.

Despite their reluctance, the three have no choice but to begin by pulling a number from the white ticket dispenser in the room. On this occasion, after beginning as usual, they stop the action and insist on exploring alternate ways to decide who’s #1. Enlisting the audience to be a human “applause meter,” Person on the Left is chosen to be #1 and the remaining two men decide who will be #2 and #3 by playing two rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors. This exercise, no matter how it is played out, always has the same result. Black gay and bisexual men are trapped in a statistical nightmare waiting to see which “one in two” of them will be diagnosed. Despite their resistance to “be a number,” they have no control of the numbers game.

After spending time listening to a young Black queer man diagnosed with HIV+, Donja R. Love decided to share the play he had written on his phone while lying in bed depressed and suicidal as he neared the 10th anniversary of his own HIV+ diagnosis. He saw his own experience in the young man and realized that play on his app on his phone was “not just [his] story, but the story of a community that’s in a hidden state of emergency.” The playwright’s “one in two” is his autobiographical clarion call for action “to help us do something – to help us make the CDC’s projected statistic for Black queer and bi folx nonexistent – to help end this epidemic and save our community.” Donja R. Love lays down his life, bares his story, for the sake of his community in an extremely brave and somewhat risky exposure of his own journey.

At this performance, Leland Fowler plays Person on the Left and is chosen to be #1; Edward Mawere plays Person in the Center (#2); and Jamyl Dobson plays Person on the Right (#3). The existential threat for these three and for the community begins at birth. Mr. Love’s play depicts the threat from childhood, through becoming positive, not taking the diagnosis well, drinking heavily, “using sex to numb the pain and [stopping] taking meds.” All part of the blur and the absurdity of “the way [Black queer men] have to navigate the world.”

The action of the play is raw, graphic, intense, powerfully cathartic, and disturbing. The men share the shame they feel, the isolation, the difficult encounters with family, the visits to clinics and the support groups, the absurdity of “the right of passage for Black queer men.” Mr. Love’s focus here is the Black queer HIV+ community. It isn’t meant to connect to other communities although it invites a more universal cry for help to end the epidemic and save the Black queer HIV+ community. See it. Do the work.


“one in two” features Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler and Edward Mawere. This production includes Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonato, Costume Design by Andy Jean, Lighting Design by Cha See and Sound Design by Justin Ellington. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production Stage Manager is Jakob W. Plummer.

The New Group’s “one in two” plays in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street) through Sunday December29, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. with Wednesday matinees at 2:00 p.m. on December 18 and January 8; and Sunday evening performances at 7:30pm on December 15, December 22, December 29 and January 5. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jamyl Dobson and Leland Fowler in The New Group’s “one in two.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 11, 2019