On Saturday, World AIDS Day brought events that centered around raising awareness of and solidarity for AIDS victims to campus. The ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance in particular was home to the one-man show Today It’s Me, which recounts the life of legendary Ugandan musician Philly Lutaaya. It follows the music star as he went from a leading AfroPop singer to a musical activist fighting against AIDS after discovering that he was HIV positive. Though the play only lasts about 25 minutes, its emotional density impresses upon its audience the incredible tragedy of a life cut short by this terrible disease. We were instantly struck by the power of a single voice telling and singing the story of millions of victims of HIV/AIDS.
The play opens with the sole performer Donald Molosi lying in a box of light staring into space with a crazed expression on his face. He calls for his mother to lift his head and let him see the country he has loved for the last time. Molosi’s slow, deliberate movements, juxtaposed with the shape of a coffin projected in light, made tangible the tension and feelings of a man bereft of life. The scene then switched to the artist as a young man just on the cusp of success in his career as a singer. The stage was divided into two stations: a desk and a microphone to its left. Molosi transitioned between the two areas with slight changes in props and lighting. We watch as the artist talks with his absentee brother, watching as he recounts the wonders of Sweden Lutaaya is touring. Molosi was very convincing in his imaginary conversation, using only his facial expressions, hand gestures and tone of voice to bring the one-sided conversation to life; the fevered excitement of an artist about to break through in his career was palpable. The scene then changed to Molosi standing at the microphone, singing AfroPop and proclaiming, “I will die an artist.” Molosi’s voice was rich with passion and conviction, turning himself into the emblematic cocky young man who trusts in the career he has ahead of him with a confident swagger.
This happiness only lasts for a short time, however; before long Lutaaya is holding a letter from his doctor diagnosing him with AIDS. Molosi handled this fateful moment with delicacy: Quickly his motions and manner changed, filling with the terror and disbelief of a man realizing his imminent death. With this the tone of the entire play took a downshift: It resonated with desperation, but also a determination to keep moving forward. Even from behind the viewfinder of the camera I was using, I had to remind myself to keep photographing and not tear up during Molosi’s powerful speech. Upon hearing his diagnosis, he telephones his brother, telling him of his plans to reveal himself as an AIDS victim; he will take the flack that comes from being one of the few celebrities to admit his condition. The most powerful moments of the play came next, as Lutaaya describes how his children reacted to his diagnosis. Even though Molosi was the only actor in the play, it was the first time I was made aware of how crushingly alone he was on the stage. The diagnosis seemed to shrink him, to make him vulnerable.
Molosi quickly moved away from this despair though, and showed Lutaaya’s rise to meet AIDS and desire to both help his people and continue singing. Even as Molosi shows his character becoming physically diminished, putting on sunglasses to hide his weakened eyes, his decision to break from occupying only the discrete stations of the microphone and the desk lent him a newfound power. Lutaaya now moved around the stage, calling for solidarity with AIDS victims and declaring his undying resolution to keep fighting for his country. The final scene has Lutaaya lying once again in the lit square: The cyclical imagery tied us back to the beginning of the play and brought a tremendous sense of emotional closure. The play and its writing were impressive, as was Molosi’s multi-faceted performance. It is never easy for one actor to hold an entire stage, but he did so with strength and conviction.