Review of The New Group's one in two at Pershing Square Signature Center

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    December 11, 2019
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    Stepping into the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at Pershing Square Signature Center to see one in two, you immediately feel the chill in the air. It’s "The Twilight Zone," complete with unnerving, pulsing music on an endless loop. Standing and sitting on a minimalist grey and white set under cold, unforgiving light, the three men wait, poised in limbo, three characters in search of a future. As we later discover, they are all individual and nameless, without contradiction, representing the many faces of the queer, black, male community.

    From the outset, the audience is drawn into the action. The play has been structured with the conceit that the audience choose who plays what character at any given performance, which means that all three actors know every word of the play. It is astonishing and yet so apropos. There is no past or future. There is only now. The audience sows what the actors will reap.

    In the performance, I saw Edward Mawere as Man #1. His role is to play Donte, the young HIV positive man, paralyzed by his diagnosis, lost and frightened. Mawere’s sweetness breaks your heart. You rage inside at the terrible journey he is forced to take. The role of Man #2 encompasses the greatest diversity of characters, played superbly in this performance by Jamyl Dobson. From childlike shyness to flaming diva to butch man on the down-low, he conveys the essence of his characters with total conviction. He even stretches to be utterly believable as Donte’s mother. Even though he's tall, handsome and lean, he is nonetheless tenderly maternal. As Man #3, Leland Fowler has the quick taut energy of a natural leader, grounding the story with equal parts vulnerability and determination.

    Stevie Walker-Webb has deftly choreographed this complex web of characters and intersections. I love the almost Bunraku feel to the onstage presence of ‘offstage’ actors, who melt themselves into quiet corners of the stage. It is indeed a kind of prison for these characters, who can never leave.

    Rich hued lighting by Cha See creates environments as if by magic. Every choice is so perfectly on point, from the bright colors of a disco, the cold light of limbo to the dull mustard of despair. Similarly, Justin Ellington’s music plunges us into the frenetic reality of a gay bar and then hovers with otherworldly effect in the background as the scene changes, all of it turning on a dime.

    It is important to note: This piece is definitely not for children, both in subject matter and portrayal – there is some nudity, strong language and simulated sexual activity.  

    one in two dances along the high wire between narrative fiction and reaching through the fourth wall. At a very few moments the writing veers a little close to being too on the nose, but that is unavoidable. Moving through layers of unflinching narrative, through highs and lows of farce and horror, the play never settles down. At once real and surreal, the writing is laced with irony and raw emotion.

    I am grateful to have had the chance to see this piece. Difficult, yes. Worth it, absolutely!

    (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    "Is it a spoiler to tell you that this stellar company of actors doesn’t take a bow at the end? It’s regrettable in a way, because we want to thank them, but this production is after something more profound than applause. This is a play about affirmation and communion and sounding the alarm."
    Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times

    "Love has some striking and weighty things to say, particularly about how the experiences of black gay men tend to get buried beneath whiter depictions of the AIDS crisis like “The Normal Heart” and (as he calls it) “Angels in A-f–king-merica.”"
    Thom Geier for The Wrap