Island City Stage’s production of “One in Two” stars (left to right) Randall Swinton, Kevane La’Marr Colemen and Nathaniel J. Ryan as three Black men confronting an HIV diagnosis. Credit: Matthew Tippins.

JW Arnold for SFGN

Flip through the channels or scroll your social media feeds and you might rightfully think that monkeypox is the greatest health threat to society, even though COVID-19 diagnoses are surging again thanks to wily new variants.

While monkeypox is being compared to the early outbreak of AIDS in the early 1980s – men who have sex with men seem particularly disposed to catching this bug, too – HIV/AIDS is largely dismissed, thanks to two decades of antiretroviral drugs and more recent PrEP preventative therapy.

Donja R. Love’s “One in Two,” receiving its Florida premiere at Island City Stage through Sept. 4, offers a potent reminder that while gay men may be more worried about contracting monkeypox today, HIV/AIDS infection still remains a looming threat, especially among gay men of color.

As the title of the play states, one in two gay Black men are statistically likely to contract HIV. Love’s drama opens in a stark clinic waiting room, as three Black men pull numbers for their diagnoses. Foreshadowing the interactive nature of the action to come, the audience at the intimate Wilton Manors theater was also asked to pull numbers as they took their seats.

After short introductions, the audience then had the duty to determine which of the three men would receive the dreaded news and send the story barreling forward. In Sunday’s matinee, local actor Randall Swinton “won” the contest and portrayed #1/Danté. Kevane La’Marr Coleman, a veteran of San Diego-based Diversonary Theatre’s 2021 production, was #2 while Nathaniel J. Ryan became #3.

What followed are a series of vignettes that were probably very much familiar to the audience at Island City – Wilton Manors boasts one of the highest concentrations of gay residents in the country and, presumably, an equally substantial proportion of men living with HIV. And South Florida has, at times, led the nation in new infection rates.

Love, with the help of director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and the charismatic cast, sent the three men and their compatriots in the audience on a whirlwind trip through childhood sexual exploration, coming out, hookups, failed relationships and most of the seven stages of grief. While the play purports to explore the realities lived by gay Black men, the themes and experiences are universal, regardless of race or culture.

Swinton brought an appealing naivete to #1/Danté, a young man who seeks love and understanding, but now must cope with his lifechanging circumstance. Coleman sprung to life as a number of campy characters, while Ryan was the handsome leading man who otherwise elevated secondary, but necessary roles in the fast-paced story.

Yes, the story is heavy and delivered an anticipated lesson at the conclusion, but Love also explored unexpected moments of joy and human connection, especially thanks to Swinton and Coleman’s acting prowess.

The production is further aided by the set design by Ardean Landhuis, a series of white lacquered boxes and benches that quickly transformed into beds and bars without losing the ethereal feeling. Overhead, a monitor ticked relentlessly as new cases of HIV are tallied for all to see.

While “One in Two” is certainly a powerful tale that resonates in Wilton Manors, this is a play that deserves productions in other communities – communities that are less gay, less white, less affected by HIV/AIDS – where its message of resilience can have an even bigger impact, especially with the young men of color who could be destined to become statistics.