i need space
Written, directed & created by Donja R. Love
Presented by The New Group Off Stage in association with NŌ Studios and Frank Marshall

Reviewed by Chael Needle

Marcus Graham Marcel (played by Christopher Livingston) is away from home, holed up in his childhood bedroom when not caring for his dying uncle. He video-chats with his fiancé Marquise (Justin Weaks), his bestie Lee (Ja’Mel Ashely), and Dick (Cedric Leiba, Jr.), an online hook-up. He is pulled toward the release, mental and otherwise, that Dick promises. He pushes away from Marquise, even though it is obvious they love each other. And he vents to Lee, panicked that he has cheated on Marquise with Dick. “Am I fucked up?” he asks Lee, who has his own issues with his husband’s parents, whom he has yet to meet and, from afar, accept him as a transgender man but “draw the line at [him] being HIV.” The first three episodes of i need space provided for the press set up the central conflict and made me eager to find out why Marcus is tied up in knots about tying the knot and how he and the other characters will find the space they need.

Exclusively on Broadstream (broad.stream), the series also stars Dane Figueroa Edidi.

Writer and director Donja R. Love [A&U, December 2021] gives us black queer folx, rendered with emotional complexity via intimate back-and-forths that do not shy away from sex and romance and friendship. His characters are unique and universal at the same time. The writing is sharp and fearless—it will draw you in and leave you anticipating the next episode and the one after that. I would have binged the entire series in one afternoon if I had had access!

Love makes the formal constraints—we only ever see the cam view of each character—work to advance the series’ theme: Marcus wants both intimacy and distance from others, connection and disconnection. In one scene, Marquise and Dick are fused in a video-chat mash-up, as if they are speaking to each other, their voices inhabiting and creating chaos in Marcus’s brain. The video-chat often becomes a confessional booth, allowing the characters be expressive but also screened-off from each other.

When Marcus, who is an actor, films his audition for a project Lee is working on, he can’t get past the line, “Loss is like….” Livingston brings the deep well of Marcus’ pain to the surface. And the audience will want to console him. Understand him.

As an award-winning playwright and filmmaker, Love has wowed audiences with the HIV-themed one in two and Sugar in Our Wounds, as well as digital series like Modern Day Black Gay. He also has worked to strengthen representations of life with HIV/AIDS on the stage by cofounding the Write It Out! workshop series for playwrights living with HIV, and its playwriting competition (Dominic Colón won the inaugural prize).

i need space addresses HIV/AIDS in subtle ways—the aforementioned rejection of Lee by his parents-in-laws is one, and another is the vulnerability and loneliness that Marcus suffers might be understood as laying the groundwork for taking risks, emotional and physical, that sometimes lead to HIV acquisition. The wider journey of healing, whether driven by HIV or some other trauma, is threaded through Love’s work. He told Chip Alfred in the A&U cover story interview: “As odd as it may sound, it took me being diagnosed HIV-positive to actually get a full sense of my purpose, and what it means to write and to use writing as healing.” i need space continues this work in heartrending and heartwarming ways.

Chael Needle is Managing Editor of A&U.