Shakespeare in the Slums
Flotilda Williams ... Danitra Vance
[Fire escape outside a brick Harlem tenement building.
A poor, young African-American girl (wearing a
colorful combination of dreadlocks, a pink top,
rainbow belt, blue jeans, yellow socks and sneakers)
stands on the fire escape and takes wash off of a
clothesline. She turns to address the camera.]
Flotilda Williams: Um, hi, I'm Flotilda
Williams. Um, Flotilda Williams, the classical actress
with the federally-funded classical repertory company
call "Shakespeare in the Slums." ... Um, right now,
we're doin' a production of Mister William
Shakespeare's entitled "Romeo and Juliet" - and it is
the play that inspired the TV game show "Family Feud."
I play Juliet and she live here in a high rise. But
she live in the low part of the high rise, okay? ...
And, um, she in her room tryin' to be asleep but she
can't sleep because she's thinkin' about this guy -
this really cute guy - he make her laugh with his
funny, funny jokes, prob'ly got some money, so she
LIKE him! ... Um, his name Romeo -- that's the title,
"Romeo and Juliet."
So, I'm up here on my back porch and he down here in
the alleyway, lookin' up in my window. Now - he not
lookin' up in my window because he a freak -- he
lookin' up in my window because he LIKE me a LOT. ...
And then - then he begin to talk to hisself. Now he
not talkin' to hisself because he crazy. He talk to
hisself because it's a play, okay? ... People in plays
talk to theyselves a LOT. ... All right. So -- he down
there in the alleyway, lookin' up in my window,
talkin' to hisself. He say, finally:
[Throughout the rest of the sketch, she enacts
Shakespeare's dialogue extravagantly, assuming the
characters completely, and then abruptly reverts to
her "ghetto" self to address the camera with blunt
explanations of the text.]
"But soft! what light throo yonder windo'
And that's when I break through the window. ... And
when I break through, I'm like this: [with gestures
and lips moving, she mimes an animated conversation
but makes no sound] ... Because he say I speak -- yet
I say nothing. [mimes some more soundless dialogue]
... And then, finally, I say my first words, I
O, Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou
Wherefore mean why. She sayin', "Why you gots
to be Romeo?"
"Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love [hands
to her heart]
And I'll no longer be a Capsulet."
And she thinkin', she thinkin',
"Tis but thy name that is my enemy
Thou art thyself though, not a Montagoo."
What's a Montagoo? ... It is nor hand, nor
Nor foot, nor face, nor any other part
[hands on hips]
Belonging to a man."
[suggestive] You know what she's talkin' about. ...
Then she say, you know, a lot o' things. You know, all
these things, back and forth, back and forth, back and
forth. She talk to herself and she start talkin' to
him down here in the alleyway because she finally see
him down there. She say lovey-dovey things
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
[hears noise, looks around]
I hear some noise within, dear love, adieu."
That mean bye. ... And, uh,
"Stay but a little, I will come again."
That mean she be right back. [mimes an exit, then
returns] ... And then she come right back. ...
"Three words, dear Romeo, and good night
If that thy bent of love be honorable,
Thy purpose marriage, send word,
By one I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and at what time thou wilt perform the
That mean marry me, marry me, marry me - I'm not
giving up nothin' till you marry me. ...
[fixes her hair, breathlessly]
"Then all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
And follow thee, my lord, throughout the
[hears noise, calls off]
By and by, I come--!
[back to Romeo]
But if thou mean'st not well
I do beseech thee
To cease thy suit and leave me to my
That mean if you not gonna marry me, don't mess with
my mind. I can find somebody else! ...
"A thousand times good night."
Then she gone again. Um, this time she gone a little
bit longer 'cause she had to talk to her Mama and the
Nurse. Um, I don't know why she had to talk to the
Nurse because she not really sick. ... [mimes
an exit, then returns] And then she come right back.
But she don't see him nowhere. And she want to say,
[cups hands to her mouth, calls out] "Hey, Romeo!
Where you at?!" ... But she can't do that because
Juliet is a very dignified girl, and hollerin' off the
back porch is very iginant. ... So she just
say, she just say, she just say, she say:
"Hist ... "
[nervously looks around, then through clenched teeth,
[nervously puts a hand to her lips, pauses, takes a
deep breath, cups hands to mouth, lowers voice, calls
goofily with round eyes and mouth:]
[breaks into a smile at the sight of Romeo] And then
she see him. Um...
"I have forgot why I did call thee back.
'Tis almost morning. I would thee were gone
And yet no further than a wanton's bird
That lets it hop a little from her hand
Like a poor prisoner in her twisted gyves
And with a silk thread plucks it back again
So loving-jealous of his liberty." ...
I don't know what that part mean. ... And - and then
she say, she say, uh,
[starts to exit but comes back, sees Romeo's still
there -- more insistently]
"Good night! Parting is such sweet
That I shall say good night till it be
[she blows Romeo a kiss and gives him a little wave -
then, pleasantly, into the camera]
[And with that, Flotilda Williams, classical actress,
turns and goes back to taking down her laundry.