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Play rendition addresses violence in Richmond

By Christian Urrutia, assistant photo editor
On February 13, 2013

  • Te (Donte Clark) (center) is threatened by Santiago (George Mitchell) while his gang looks on during the contemporary re-make of “Romeo and Juliet” performed at the El Cerrito High School Theater on Feb. 9. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

EL CERRITO - William Shakespeare would never have imagined, while writing his notable tale of two star-crossed lovers, that it would be adapted years later into a passionate plea to end street violence.
More than four centuries after it was written, it did exactly that in "Te's Harmony" at Saturday's one night only performance at El Cerrito High School.
Richmond Artists With (RAW) Talent, a creative arts program featuring young writers and thespians, acted out this modern day rendition of Shakespeare's classic play "Romeo and Juliet."
The updated setting changes from the fictional city of Verona to Richmond, Calif., and in doing so, presents the context of these two feuding factions in a modern and realistic fashion.
By incorporating a frame of reference from the infamously violent town, audience members are better able to understand the turmoil between the characters.
Romeo is Te (Donte Clark), an 18-year-old poet who dreams of love and belongs to the House of Godfrey, led by his father Godfrey (Deandre Evans).
This version of the House of Montague represents North Richmond and is at odds with the House of Santiago, which represents Central Richmond.
Juliet becomes Harmony (D'Neise Robinson) in this adaptation and is the daughter of Santiago (George Mitchell), who was Capulet in the original story.
The story is structurally similar to "Romeo and Juliet," but serves more as an allegory for young minorities struggling through daily life during horrific circumstances.
This allegoric perspective features overtones of violence, death, their environmental impact on youth and the entrapment of lower class citizens.
For example, the Mercutio character in this play, Gemini (Wanita Jones), performs a monologue focusing on her own attempted murder, death and street icons.
A video presentation showcasing how Godfrey and Santiago became enemies encountered technical problems and stalled the play for a few minutes.
Nonetheless, the crowd was positively receptive toward the introduction and the soliloquies were performed well. By incorporating Bay Area vernacular to the concept, the execution from the actors is praiseworthy.
A prime example is Te's opening monologue about everyone not understanding him and the battles that are fought on the streets.
For instance when Te and Harmony first meet at a party in Central Richmond, things do not go well because she feels he would do the same catcalling like other guys.
But in the following conversation, Harmony and Te talk about a mutual love of poetry and find out where they live while exchanging numbers despite talk of the dangers of getting together.
The acting was superb with minor hiccups, such as forgetting one's lines, but overall, the monologues reflected the contemporary themes. Microphone difficulties occurred throughout the play and made certain dialogue scenes difficult to follow.
The biggest change however is the climax.
Shakespeare's play ends with Juliet killing herself after finding Romeo dead and the two families reconcile because of this. In "Te's Harmony," Harmony ends up in the hospital after receiving a beating from Ray Jr. (Trevon Newmann) while pregnant.
This was influenced by the death of Gemini who was killed by T-Y (Ivori Holson). A final confrontation takes place between the houses at the hospital and what actually happened between Santiago and Godfrey is revealed.
Te and Harmony live through the ordeal and reach out to audience members about ending violence in Richmond, which received a standing ovation from the crowd.

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