WATCH: Playwright Talks Acclaimed Play Centering Black Gay Men, HIV, Ahead of Livestream
Openly queer Playwright Donja R. Love (Sugar In Our Wounds,Fireflies) says when he began writing his critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway play "one in two" on his phone, that he never intended for anyone else to see it. The play is deeply personal and marks the ten-year anniversary of Love receiving his HIV diagnosis. After enjoying a successful run last season at The New Theater Group in New York City, the play will be live-streamed on Friday for a world-wide audience.
Love joined John Martin-Green on Wednesday for a live intergenerational conversation on community, stigma, living with HIV and the impact of "one in two" on his target audience.
The plays title "one in two," is derived from the 2016 CDC statistic that states: "if current HIV diagnoses rates persist, about 1 in 2 black men who have sex with men (MSM) and 1 in 4 Latino MSM in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime."
In "one in two," three young Black queer men are waiting to be chosen. When one of them is, he’s forced to live a new reality inside an epidemic, exploring the joys, the gags and the truths of not being defined by his diagnosis.
“This play that I wrote on my phone doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the community," said Love.
"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.’ As if what we went through is a rite of passage for Black queer men," Love writes in the program note for "one in two."
Love tells Martin-Green that at the time of his diagnosis his CD4 (T-Cell) Count, the white blood cells that are critical to fighting infection, was 258.
"I would see that number everywhere," said Love. "If I’m reading a book, I’ll just so happen to look at the page and it’ll be 2-5-8. If I look at the time, it’ll just so happen to be 2:58. If I’m flipping through a channel, it’ll be 258. And for me, it’s incredibly humbling and grounding. It’s actually grounding to remember the point I was at when I received my diagnosis.”
Like the newly diagnosed young man that Love held space for and ultimately revealed to him the importance of sharing his play with the world, he says he was also emotionally despondent and hopeless upon receiving his HIV diagnosis.
"I thought my world was over. I thought there was nothing to live for. I found myself spiraling," said Love.
"I found myself spiraling in a way where I became completely dependent on alcohol…where I would I throw myself into the beds of men who I still don’t know their last names…probably don’t know my last name. I just wanted a connection. I wanted somebody to want me. And I just kept throwing myself into these things that at the time were not healthy for me at all."
Both Love and Martin-Green(who has been living with HIV for nearly 30 years) agree that being enveloped in community changed how they viewed themselves as Black same gender loving men living with HIV and completely altered their trajectories for the better.
"I don't know who I would be, I don't know where I would be if it were not for my community," said Love.
"And I'm speaking specifically to my Black community, my queer community, my HIV-positive community and my intersectional Black, queer, HIV-positive community."
Love will continue to speak through "one in two" when it's live-streamed on June 12 as part of Playbill's "Pride Plays" in celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month. All proceeds will benefit Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS.
The live-stream will provide the opportunity for people of all races and backgrounds who may not have been able to travel to New York City to see the show during its premiere an opportunity to experience it's transformative power. But make no mistake about it, Love created "one in two" for us.
"Yes, anyone can experience… anyone can takes something away, but please know that at the center of who this story is about and for is this specific group: this group being Black, queer, same gender loving, HIV-positive folks."
Watch Donja R. Love in conversation with John Martin-Green in the video below.