Metro Weekly

Mosaic’s ‘One In Two’ Review: Triple Threats

The cast of Mosaic's "One in Two" nail the charm and extraordinary challenge of Donja R. Love's HIV-themed dramedy.

One In Two -- Photo: Chris Banks
One In Two — Photo: Chris Banks

Considering the spontaneous, choose-your-adventure format of Donja R. Love’s One in Two (★★★★☆) — i.e., the audience at each performance will choose which of the cast’s three actors plays the role of Number One, leaving the roles of Two and Three up to chance — it might behoove a critic to see the show more than one or two times to experience multiple permutations of the production at Mosaic Theater.

However, there wasn’t time for that before this review, and, more crucially, I’d say audiences can rest assured director Raymond O. Caldwell’s talented trio will deliver — regardless of who plays which part. For the press performance, the audience assigned Michael Kevin Darnall the central role of Number One, with recent Helen Hayes Award winner Justin Weaks “landing” Number Two, and Pose star Ryan Jamaal Swain taking on Number Three, both of which essay multiple roles.

The onstage choosing is conducted inside a sterile, white waiting room of the soul that easily converts, courtesy of scenic designer Nadir Bey’s functional compartments, into various settings for the story of how Number One — named Donté — finds himself among the one in two Black gay men who may, according to statistics, contract HIV in their lifetime. Determined he won’t be just another number, Donté still struggles after learning of his positive diagnosis.

One In Two -- Photo: Chris Banks
One In Two — Photo: Chris Banks

The walls of Atlas’ Sprenger Theatre are adorned with six panels from the National AIDS Memorial Quilt, paying tribute to those who have died, but also marking some hope and progress in the ongoing fight against the disease. Donté is diagnosed in the age of one-pill-a-day antiretroviral treatments and U=U, so his prospects for leading a long, otherwise healthy life are good.

Yet that doesn’t prevent him from spiraling in shame, fear, and confusion, deciding that if sex no longer excites or soothes him, he’ll just drink and fuck himself numb.

Darnall inhabits every intimate and tumultuous emotion of Donté’s journey, which was inspired in part by the playwright’s own experiences living with HIV. As an artist determined to end the stigma that can paralyze a person like Donté, Love not only offers an informed depiction of conversations around sex and status, disclosure and support, but writes it all with a zinging wit and attitude that the company carries off winningly.

They keep the proceedings lively and hilarious, without ever losing the gravity of the subject, and also pull off lightning-quick changes in character, mood, or setting, and sometimes all three.

One In Two -- Photo: Chris Banks
One In Two — Photo: Chris Banks

The display of actorly skill — and memorization, alone, since all three actors have to know all three parts — doesn’t appear effortless, but runs fluidly. There’s no confusion on the audience side following along from bar to bedroom, to a meeting room for the support group where Donté encounters a Married Man (Swain) in a serodiscordant relationship, as well as the always outspoken Banjii Cunt at the Center (Weaks). Donté also has to deal with disclosing his status to his Kinda Ex-Boyfriend (Swain), and to his mother (Weaks, serving church hat realness).

Meanwhile, on a digital display above the stage, numbers tick higher on a digital counter, upward from 0 to 500 to 2,000, quickly adding into the thousands. Will the numbers ever stop growing, Donté wonders? It can only help to see the experience of Donté having his number chosen portrayed with such honesty, humor, and an emphasis on healing.

Mosaic’s One in Two runs through June 25 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets are $29 to $64, with economy ticket options for each performance. Call 202-399-7993, ext. 2 or visit

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