Tonight through Dec. 18th, Burning Coal Theatre Company is staging the American premier production of Written on the Heart, British playwright David Edgar’s 2011 dramatization of the writing of the King James Version of The Bible. It is a reminder that during a period of almost a hundred years prior to that book’s composition, the struggle among various factions of reformists consisted mostly of differences of opinion about the meanings of words.
Most of the characters in Edgar’s story presumably existed, but the dramatist’s creation of the forensics that arose among these erudites is awesome. In fact, those differences re-arise among similar pillars of Christianity as continued attempts are made to bring ancient writings into contemporary Biblical scholarship. However, nowadays, no one gets burned at the stake.
But essentially, this is the story of William Tyndale, who famously believed that The Bible should be written so that even ploughboys could read the word of God. He completed the first translation of the New Testament in 1526, an act which ultimately brought him to the fate of witches.
Thereafter, six different translations circulated but remained highly controversial until King James VI od Scotland and I of England decreed in 1604 that a version acceptable to all involved would be assembled. That version was printed in 1611, and much of that language turns out to be the work of Tyndale. Written on the Heart was written by Edgar to honor the 400th anniversary of the KJV, and first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2011.
Like most of Edgar’s plays, this one requires an attentive mind and, perhaps, some familiarity with the topic. Time changes in this one; and an abundance of characters, not all of whom get meaty lines, tend to blur the atmosphere.
However, director Jerome Davis moves his two dozen actors around the stage well, with clear exits and entrances as well as cross-stage movements and positioning. They delivered lines well, the principles fleshed out characters fully, resulting in a show that is entertaining as well as educational.
John Allore is wonderful in the role of Tyndale. Tyndale’s frustration is fully communicated to the audience, as are his flaws, his dedication to his belief, and his integrity.
Lancelot Andrewes, the Bishop of Ely, as played by George Jack, is the perfect counterpoint to Allore’s Tyndale, as true to his cause as Tyndale to his, and stalwart in his willingness to cede the opportunity for power to his true beliefs.
Gus Allen, as the scholar Samuel Ward, conflicted by his faith and his human desires, gives a strong performance, with a full voice, and the aura of sureness about him. And Mary Currer, a tip of the hat to feminist activism, who struggled her way into power, self-educated and strong willed, is forcefully played by Kaley Morrison.
Ted Oliver and Julie Oliver penned the vocal arrangements, and Oliver coached the singing of the religious pieces, and several interesting songs in contemporary language that liven up the proceedings.
A lovely, impressionistic dance sequence, choreographed by Robin Harris, gracefully enhances the soaring cathedral design behind an onstage altar, designed by E.D. Intemann. And interesting, eclectic costumes were designed by Katy Werlin.
This is a complicated play, and it may well need to be seen more than once to be fully understood. However, we recommend seeing it. The performance is just superb, and the education is worth the effort.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article120170678.html; Dec. 8th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/written-on-the-heart-reveals-the-dangers-and-conflicts-behind-the-king-james-bible/Content?oid=5093211 and Nov. 30th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/written-on-the-heart/Event?oid=5085138; and Dec. 3rd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8256.
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents WRITTEN ON THE HEART at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8-10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15-17, and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursdays, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/main-stage-show-written-on-the-heart/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1760903004175345/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCZCKhjy55E.
2016-17 MAIN-STAGE SEASON: http://burningcoal.org/mainstage/.
PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
NOTE: There will be a Lobby Lecture, moderated by Burning Coal artistic director Jerome Davis and featuring the Rev. Dr. Chris Chapman of First Baptist Church, Dr. Bernie Cochran, Professor Emeritus of Religion & Philosophy at Meredith College, and the Rev. Dr. Winston B. Charles of Christ Episcopal Church. For details, click here.
Written on the Heart (2011 play): https://www.rsc.org.uk/written-on-the-heart (Royal Shakespeare Company web page) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Written_on_the_Heart (Wikipedia).
David Edgar (British playwright): https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/david-edgar (British Council: Literature bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/david-edgar-9597 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0249201/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/david.edgar.16 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/davidbedgar (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Edgar_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).
Jerome Davis (Raleigh, NC director and Burning Coal artistic director): http://burningcoal.org/jerome-davis/ (Burning Coal bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jerome.davis.5686 (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.