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Malik Yoba: Working It Out

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By Andrew Davis

Malik Yoba may be best known as Detective James 'J.C.' Williams on the 1994-1998 show New York Undercover, but there's a different type of undercover development involved in Work It Out, an urban production that will be performed at Arie Crown Theater, 2301 S. Lake Shore Dr., on July 20-23.

Yoba portrays Anthony Jackson, a married man who is on the 'down low.' ( Other controversial elements that are tackled include abortion and even drive-by shootings. ) He took a few minutes from a hectic schedule to talk with Windy City Times about the role.

Windy City Times: What attracted you to this part?

Malik Yoba: I was involved in some early conversations before the play was even written. The folks who are involved are pretty ambitious individuals who are trying to get a foothold in the urban theater space, and I've been involved in that space for about the last seven or eight years ( with touring and the Malik Yoba National Theater Company ) . It was about getting into the business side of things, beyond being in the play.

WCT: This production is being promoted as being controversial.

MY: [ Laughs. ] I don't think it's that controversial, really. Maybe for some people it is, but you and I are not on that wavelength.

WCT: What would be a controversial topic to tackle?

MY: Oh, there are a million of them, like getting out of Iraq or [ even ] making all schools wireless. The bigger thing for me is that the urban theater market is a wonderful place to do business. This is writer Eric Nance's debut and I've been [ a consultant ] through the whole process.

Regarding the 'down low' phenomenon and other things, Black folks are pretty conservative. It's all good, man. If I can help some folks out [ regarding the business side ] , it's all good.

WCT: What was your wife's reaction to you taking this role? Does she understand that it's all just part of the biz?

MY: Oh, yeah. I have a very open-minded and progressive family. We're not spooked by anything like that.

WCT: This plays condemns infidelity—but does it condemn homosexuality?

MY: The issue is complex. If you approach the subject, you need to think about it; there isn't just one answer. There isn't just one dynamic that takes place with people who lead duplicitous lives around their sexuality, whether it's several men or women on the side. The script doesn't condemn. I just wish that people were more sensitive [ to these issues ] . Sexuality is as individual as a fingerprint.

WCT: Now, you were in a TV series called Thief...

MY: Yeah, it aired in March and was pulled in April. That's why the play business is so important to me. In my first tour in 2000, we made $5 million in 12 weeks, and $3 million was profit. I understand the potential of this market.

That's why there's the Malik Yoba National Theater Company. I'll be the first actor who has established a national touring company in an urban space. People celebrate Tyler Perry's success, but he's one of many who's made millions in this [ niche ] . This is missionary work for me [ in terms of getting messages across through performance ] .

For ticket information, see

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