“one in two” presented by The New Group is the latest play you need to see. Written by Donja R. Love (Fireflies) and directed by Stevie Walker Webb (Ain’t No Mo’), “one in two” is inspired by the 2016 statistic that every one in two queer Black men have/will contract HIV. This show cleverly and precisely brings to life that very statistic, not by telling the story of someone who fits the statistic, but conceptually creating a 90 minute examination of the statement itself.
We are met with three black men who are unnamed. Their actions are determined by unknown powers that be, that will punish them if they do not play out the “story.” The story, that is, of an HIV positive Black man who will ultimately take his own life, as if there is no other story to tell or no other way for that story to end. The men are eventually deemed “Number 1,” “Number 2,” and “Number 3.” As they play out the story of this one HIV positive black man, who is portrayed by Number 1, Number 2 and Number 3 portray characters involved in various parts of his life after his diagnosis. Through this, audience members witness the mundane, the joyful, the reckless, and the hopeful aspects of these ups and downs, including the experiences that most people do not ever talk about. It is raunchy, upfront, and truly honest.
This creative aspect heightens the true essence of this play as well as the urgency. The reality that it could be anyone of us and anyone could be affected in some way. The characters are unnamed because we have already made statistics out of the people this play is about. The show reflects that in a way that is both meta and self critiquing. Which will ultimately leave audiences knowing that “one in two” is more than a play, it is so much bigger than the theater and the 90 minutes we will spend experiencing it. Audiences will leave “one in two” knowing that now, it is time to do something.
With such a heavy topic there is also humor, achieved through truthful representation and great timing, of course. The characters represented, all feel like someone we know personally, with simple obscure names like “Kinda ex-boyfriend,” “Mom,” and “Married man at the center” which provide comic relief at random moments throughout, as well as perspective.
I had the pleasure of seeing the show on “Black Theatre Night” at the Pershing Square Center, off Broadway. The show was followed by a Q&A with the cast, moderated by Poet, Playwright, and Activist Timothy DuWhite. DuWhite opened the discussion by sharing the story of Robert Rayford, a young Black man from Missouri who is suggested to have represented the earliest case of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. in 1969, and how that particular story is often overlooked and overshadowed by a case of a White man who contracted the virus nearly 20 years later. He uses this example to express the erasure of Black people in the conversation surrounding HIV. Throughout the Q&A, a moment for knowledge, reflection, and laughs; the actors share how much they learned about the virus and about themselves through being apart of “one in two” and that the role comes with both “high stakes and high responsibility.”
“one in two” is presented by The New Group, for a limited engagement, now through January 12th. I strongly suggest everyone see this play, tickets are available here.