In an exploration of what it means to be HIV-positive, Black, and queer in America today, Donja R. Love's one in two is an urgent piece that demands to be seen at the intersection of Black Lives Matter and Pride. The play’s title references the statistic that one in every two gay and bisexual Black men will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lives, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control in 2016.
One in two had its world premiere in 2019 Off-Broadway at The New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center. Now, it returns for a live stream presentation starring Jamyl Dobson, Leland Fowler, and Edward Mawere as person on the left, person in the middle, and person on the right, respectively. Love was recently nominated for Best Play at the inaugural Antonyo Awards.
Presented in a free live stream June 12 at 7 PM ET as part of the Pride Plays Festival, the broadcast will help raise funds for Broadway Cares/Equity fights AIDS and be available at Playbill.com/PridePlays. The reading will be directed by Malika Oyetimein, with stage management by Noelle Diane Johnson.
The play follows three performers as they embody several characters, one who mirrors Love's own experience discovering he is HIV-positive. But the piece is more than an autobiography. It's a deeply funny, moving, eye-opening, and tragic look at a community and the stories that are told about them. It even touches on the nondiscriminatory nature of HIV; at The New Group production, audiences chose who played a character named #1 by clapping for each of the three men on stage—the loudest round of applause determines #1. Then, #2 and #3 are decided upon by a game of rocks, paper, scissors.
Once determined, #1 plays Donté while #2 and #3 play multiple people in Donté's life. The numbered performers frequently break, however, adding an even more in-depth perspective on HIV-positive and Black life.
Prior to the primetime event, Playbill chatted with Love about his one in two:
What does it mean to have your play been seen by an in-person audience and by a global audience in such a short time span?
Donja R. Love: [It] means the message of the play, [that] Black gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV, is getting out there in rapid succession—like the infection rates within my community. It means that art can help in the work of reducing infection and creating a stigma-free world. And with a digital presentation, the message will reach a broader audience.
How do you anticipate one in two will thrive in the digital presentation format on StreamYard?
The play depends so heavily on a live audience, so I don’t know. That is what scares the sh*t out of me. But what I’ve learned is this is a scary play. It demands all of you at all times. It also demands you to listen, to acknowledge what’s going on in a community. And maybe, just maybe—while in the comfort of their homes—people will be able to hear what this play is saying.
The play explores the experience of being Black, queer, and HIV-positive. Why are these specific themes important to have highlighted in a festival like Pride Plays?
Stories centering Black, queer HIV-positive folx need to be highlighted because we have pride for each other and ourselves. Period. Though shame, stigma, and anti-Blackness continuously try to attack us, we survive, and we thrive with pride down!
What made you decide to have the audience elect who would play #1 and a game decide #2 and #3?
I decided to have the audience pick who would play #1 because HIV is that random. Anyone can contract it. Though systems such as white supremacy and anti-Blackness, specifically, make Black queer and trans folx more susceptible to infection. As for a game being the deciding factor in what actor would play #2 or #3, I wanted something absurd—something that would make you say, "Now that don’t make no damn sense. They have to play a game to figure out who’s going to play what character?" And the answer is yes. The absurdity that Black people have to go through makes no damn sense. The play reflects that.
I understand your play started as a transcript on your phone; was there a specific moment that influenced your decision to have one in two seen by an audience?
There was a specific moment I decided to have the play seen. A few weeks after writing one in two, a friend reached out asking if I could talk to a young man recently diagnosed with HIV. They shared that this young man was not taking his diagnosis well. He started heavily drinking, using sex to numb his pain, and he stopped taking his meds. After hearing this, the young man and I met that night. The entire time we held space with each other, I listened to him bravely share his experience of becoming positive and how everything has been a blur since. With so much of what he shared about his journey, I found myself thinking,“I remember that being my experience, too.” That was the exact moment I realized, though this play maybe my testimony, it’s not my story. It belongs to my community.
What do you hope the theatre community—both the professionals and audiences— take away from seeing this piece?
I hope people understand that Black HIV-Positive Stories and Lives Matter. Period. A comment that I repeatedly heard, from folx who saw the show, was, “Wow. I never knew that statistic exists.” The statistic that the play gets its name from, released by the Center for Disease and Prevention Control in 2016, states one in two Black gay and bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. That’s wild and heartbreaking. I firmly believe that statistic exists because, as always, Black people have been made invisible within the conversation of HIV and AIDS. White is what always comes to mind. In the arts: Angels in America, The Normal Heart, The Inheritance, Dallas Buyers Club, Philadelphia, How to Survive a Plague. The list goes on, even with funding and activism. People think about Gay Men's Health Crisis or Act Up. But what about Gay Men of African Descent, founded in 1986? Or Us Helping Us, established in 1985? Or Brooklyn Men Konnect, or Black AIDS Institute? Why are we never, in a full way, included in the conversation? We exist, and our lives matter.
The stage directions and the onstage setting are ambiguous in the script. Why was it important to you to let the performers to decide in the moment?
I wanted to keep the stage directions, tone, and overall structure of the play dream-like, a rapid blur. This was to mirror what it’s like to be HIV-positive. Starting at diagnosis, one’s experience with HIV can be disjointed. One moment you and your journey can be so clear, then the next, you have no clue who you are. My goal was to have every line of the play honor that experience.
What other projects are you working on, currently?
For the past three months, I’ve been speaking with Black same-gender-loving men who survived the AIDS crisis in the ’80s. These are men diagnosed during this crisis, or men who lost lovers and friends. Men made invisible. Most of these elders I spoke with I never met before, but they were determined to tell their story and uplift a youngin’. Their stories are harrowing and nothing short of extraordinary. One man, diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, shared, “I went to the (white) gays for help, and they said, ‘You’re Black, go to the Black community.’ I went to the Black community for help, and they said, ‘You’re gay, go to the gay community.’ It started to feel like I didn’t have anywhere to go.” What a statement. Many of these conversations were filled with such raw candor. I’m using these stories to craft a play that holds space for HIV and AIDS on an intergenerational level within a family. What I learned from these men and many others are we are family. We need each other to combat HIV and AIDS.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Love’s one in two is one of four mainstage presentations of the 2020 Pride Plays Festival from producers Doug Nevin and Michael Urie, festival director Nick Mayo, and associate director Nic Cory. The other free broadcasts on Playbill include Brave Smiles...Another Lesbian Tragedy by The Five Lesbian Brothers June 22, Masculinity Max by MJ Kaufman June 19, and The Men From the Boys by Mart Crowley June 26. The festival also includes 11 other plays in development that will receive private readings throughout the month of June. The Playbill Pride Spectacular Concert will air June 28, free on Playbill.
Want to support LBGTQ+ communities during Pride Month? Please consider making a donation at broadwaycares.org/prideplays2020.