From left: Ryan Jamaal Swain, Justin Weaks and Michael Kevin Darnall starin Donja R. Love’s “one in two,” now at Mosaic Theater until June 25. (Courtesy of Chris Banks)
From left: Ryan Jamaal Swain, Justin Weaks and Michael Kevin Darnall starin Donja R. Love’s “one in two,” now at Mosaic Theater until June 25. (Courtesy of Chris Banks)

Three actors make up the entire ensemble of multiple characters in Mosaic Theater’s latest play, “one in two,” and each performance it’s never the same production. Determined by an audience vote that will impact what happens with the characters, the actors take on different roles every show. To identify the performers, they each have a number for the night as number one, number 2, or number three. Sounds confusing? It can be, but it gives the audience incentive to see this revealing play more than once.

“It’s literally like rehearsing the play three different times,” said director Raymond O. Caldwell. “They have to know everything.”

“one in two” is a D.C. premiere from award-winning playwright Donja R. Love inspired by his own HIV diagnosis. The play takes the audience on a journey of a man being diagnosed as HIV-positive. There is a roller coaster of laughs and heartbreak as family and lovers need to be told, keeping up with counseling and medications, plus trying to figure out how to manage day-to-day life.

The cast of “one in two” includes Ryan Jamaal Swain, an alumnus of Howard University. Swain rose to fame as the central character “Damon” on the popular FX show “Pose.” Rounding out the cast of three are Justin Weaks and Michael Kevin Darnall.

The acting is superb. It is hard to imagine how the cast copes with not knowing the role they will undertake until the opening lottery. Before settling into the storyline, the actors go back and forth joking with each other to figure out their approach. As the play evolves, Swain, Weaks and Darnall give honest and smart depictions as characters playing a mother, a nurse, a bartender, a quick hook-up guy, and participants in an HIV counseling group.

Scenic designer Nadir Bey deserves major kudos for the efficient set he created. For each scenario in the play, the actors are required to move the set to fit the action.

“I asked Nadir to build me a playground that felt like a system,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell is well-known in the D.C. theater community with directing credits at Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre, Imagination Stage, The Kennedy Center, National Players/Olney Theatre, Solas Nua, CulturalDC, and African Continuum Theatre. The award-winning director, writer, and producer led D.C.’s Theater Alliance as producing artistic director. His approach to “one in two” gave Caldwell something different to tackle.

“I’m always looking for plays to produce that are not conversations we’re having about Black people,” Caldwell said. “I think sometimes our conversations or our ideas about Black people in America are monolithic.”

“one in two” is 90 minutes and moves quickly. A drawback is that depending on where you are sitting, it might be hard to hear the dialog if an actor has his back to you. Get a seat in the middle section. Again, “one in two” is at Mosaic Theater Company of DC until June 25. For ticket information, visit 

Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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