NEW YORK – Actor and Producer Malik Yoba and Playwright David Heron are celebrating another successful staged reading production of Heron’s award winning courtroom drama Against His Will, presented at City Center Stage II in New York’s Manhattan theater district on Monday, November 13.
The staged reading was produced by Yoba and Consulting Producer Janel C Scarborough and directed by Heron. The event follows previous presentations at The Schomburg Center’s American Negro Theatre (ANT) and at The Apollo, both in Harlem, in 2022.
The series of staged readings is a prelude to a full New York production of the play towards which Yoba, Heron and their team are working.
Against His Will had its World Premiere in Jamaica over twenty years ago. The controversial legal drama tells the story of a young Jamaican computer salesman who accuses his female boss of sexual assault, resulting in an explosive courtroom trial that essentially divides the island nation. The original Jamaican production earned five Actor Boy Awards- the Jamaican equivalent of Broadway’s Tony- including Best Production, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Drama and Best New Jamaican Play.
The majority of the play’s well received cast from last year’s Apollo presentation returned for the 2023 incarnation, including Obie Award winner Zainab Jah (Broadway’s Eclipsed) and Tony Award nominee Pascale Armand (Broadway’s Eclipsed). They were joined by James Duke Walker, Miranda Melhado, Brad Fraizer, Teisha Duncan, Karl O’Brian Williams, Carlene Taylor, Dianne Dixon and reading Stage Manager Bill Vila.
A large and enthusiastic audience, including Broadway and Off Broadway producers, theatre industry personnel and members of the Caribbean cultural and business communities showed their appreciation for the presentation with a prolonged standing ovation.
During the post show talkback, hosted by award winning actress Aixa Kendrick (television’s Walking Dead- Dead City), producer Yoba reiterated his commitment to the project, citing Heron’s passion and enthusiasm, as well as his own determination to share the piece with as wide an audience as possible, beginning with the Caribbean community.
According to him, “The appeal of the play is that it is an authentic Jamaican story that portrays a side of the country very different from the often seen ‘bad man ting.’ It’s important for a voice like David’s to be heard and it can be very hard in New York City to make that happen. So that’s why I got involved and why we are already in talks with entities here tonight to successfully share the work, starting with our own Caribbean audiences and moving on from there.”
Consulting Producer Scarborough stated that she was enjoying the process of bringing a woman’s sensibility to a story that contains a highly controversial subject matter at its center.
As she puts it, “It’s entirely possible for me, as a woman, to put on my producer hat and appreciate the importance of telling this story, while personally holding mixed feelings about the actions of the characters within the story. That’s really what producers do. If you have deep respect and admiration for the work, you are going to do whatever it takes to create a platform for diverse perspectives to be given voice.”
Also in attendance and bringing their legal perspectives to the play’s issues during the talkback segment were real life Judge Torkwase Sekou as well as Barbara Cassidy, Co-creator and Co-director of Seeing Rape– a theater and justice programme taught at The John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She was accompanied by several students from the programme.
In his remarks to the audience, playwright and director Heron commented on his surprise at how relevant the play still seems today, over twenty years after its debut.
“To think that Against His Will premiered all those years ago, that the script remains 98% the same and yet still seems so fresh to audiences seeing it for the first time today, is remarkable to me,” he stated. “It really does say something about Jamaica then and now, as well as the world we live in today. It still provokes deep thought and passionate conversation, which is always a good thing in the world of the theater.”