Shakespeare in the Slums

Shakespeare in the Slums

Flotilda Williams … Danitra Vance


[Fire escape outside a brick Harlem tenement building.A poor, young African-American girl (wearing acolorful combination of dreadlocks, a pink top,rainbow belt, blue jeans, yellow socks and sneakers)stands on the fire escape and takes wash off of aclothesline. She turns to address the camera.]

Flotilda Williams: Um, hi, I’m FlotildaWilliams. Um, Flotilda Williams, the classical actresswith the federally-funded classical repertory companycall “Shakespeare in the Slums.” … Um, right now,we’re doin’ a production of Mister WilliamShakespeare’s entitled “Romeo and Juliet” – and it isthe play that inspired the TV game show “Family Feud.”…

I play Juliet and she live here in a high rise. Butshe live in the low part of the high rise, okay? …And, um, she in her room tryin’ to be asleep but shecan’t sleep because she’s thinkin’ about this guy -this really cute guy – he make her laugh with hisfunny, funny jokes, prob’ly got some money, so sheLIKE 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 inthe alleyway, lookin’ up in my window. Now – he notlookin’ up in my window because he a freak — helookin’ up in my window because he LIKE me a LOT. …And then – then he begin to talk to hisself. Now henot talkin’ to hisself because he crazy. He talk tohisself because it’s a play, okay? … People in playstalk to theyselves a LOT. … All right. So — he downthere in the alleyway, lookin’ up in my window,talkin’ to hisself. He say, finally:

[Throughout the rest of the sketch, she enactsShakespeare’s dialogue extravagantly, assuming thecharacters completely, and then abruptly reverts toher “ghetto” self to address the camera with bluntexplanations of the text.]

“But soft! what light throo yonder windo’break?”

And that’s when I break through the window. … Andwhen I break through, I’m like this: [with gesturesand lips moving, she mimes an animated conversationbut makes no sound] … Because he say I speak — yetI say nothing. [mimes some more soundless dialogue]… And then, finally, I say my first words, Isay,

“Ay me!
O, Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thouRomeo?”

Wherefore mean why. She sayin’, “Why you gotsto be Romeo?”

“Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
[handsto 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, norarm,
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, allthese things, back and forth, back and forth, back andforth. She talk to herself and she start talkin’ tohim down here in the alleyway because she finally seehim down there. She say lovey-dovey thingslike:

“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, thenreturns] … And then she come right back. …

“Three words, dear Romeo, and good nightindeed.
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 therite.”

That mean marry me, marry me, marry me – I’m notgiving 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 theworld.

[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 mygrief.”

That mean if you not gonna marry me, don’t mess withmy mind. I can find somebody else! …

“A thousand times good night.”

Then she gone again. Um, this time she gone a littlebit longer ’cause she had to talk to her Mama and theNurse. Um, I don’t know why she had to talk to theNurse because she not really sick. … [mimesan 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 becauseJuliet is a very dignified girl, and hollerin’ off theback porch is very iginant. … So she justsay, she just say, she just say, she say:

“Hist … “

[nervously looks around, then through clenched teeth,quietly]

“Romeo.”

[nervously puts a hand to her lips, pauses, takes adeep breath, cups hands to mouth, lowers voice, callsgoofily with round eyes and mouth:]

“Rooooooomeeeooooooo …”

[breaks into a smile at the sight of Romeo] And thenshe 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 thenshe say, she say, uh,

“Good night.”

[starts to exit but comes back, sees Romeo’s stillthere — more insistently]

“Good night! Parting is such sweetsorrow
That I shall say good night till it bemorrow.”

[she blows Romeo a kiss and gives him a little wave -then, pleasantly, into the camera]

Good night.

[And with that, Flotilda Williams, classical actress,turns and goes back to taking down her laundry.Applause. Fade.]

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