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Burning Coal’s “The Heretic” Is an Exhausting and Puzzling Play


Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s American premiere of “The Heretic” by English playwright Richard Bean stars Emilie Blum as Phoebe (photo by The Right Image Photography, Inc.)

Richard Bean’s “The Heretic,” in its American premiere at Burning Coal Theatre Company, is a puzzling and, unfortunately, not very enjoyable play. Though it starts off as promising, with its strong characters and its fearless exploration of even stronger topics—think the issues surrounding climate change and the screwed-up world of academia—it quickly dissolves into a confusing and jumbled mess. The first act is serious, and the second act takes on the form of a madcap romantic comedy, making the whole thing feel unbalanced. And, to make matters worse,  the play features seemingly unending and sometimes undecipherable dialogue made worse in this production by overdone accents. There could be brilliant messages hidden in Bean’s piece–indeed, there are glimmers of rousing questions about what makes a life worth sustaining—but there are so many flaws within this exhausting script that the viewer doesn’t have the energy to even want to find them.

Despite the cumbersome script, or perhaps in spite of it, director Jerome Davis manages to coax enthusiastic performances out of his talented cast. Julie Oliver as Dr. Diane Cassell is poised but fiery, and Emilie Blum, with her quirky cuteness and comedic antics, brings the plucky, troubled Phoebe, Dr. Cassell’s daughter, to life. Phoebe shares some nice moments with charming young Ben, portrayed by a perfectly-cast and perfectly-scruffy Chris Raddatz, with whom Blum has considerable and believable chemistry.

The gleaming, ice-cap-inspired set by Ed Intemann is also noteworthy, but even a fine set and fine performances can’t save this one. Even the ending—when it finally comes—is flawed; it feels too happy, too hopeful, and overall, too unsure of itself to provide any real closure and, if possible, throws the play even more out of balance.

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE HERETIC at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19-21, 2 p.m. Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26-28, and 2 p.m. Sept. 29 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty miltary personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain); $15 Thursdays; and $15-per-ticket for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or





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The Heretic (2011 West End play): (Royal Court Theatre) and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Richard Bean (English playwright): (United Agents) and (Wikipedia).

Jerome Davis (director): (Facebook bio).


Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere.

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