At least they got the question rightalthough probably not in the way they intended. I’m referring to the would-be marketing geniuses behind the arts initiative Wherefore: Shakespeare in Raleigh.
Theatergoers familiar with the Bard will recall that the word “wherefore,” in Shakespeare’s time, was interrogative, asking “why” or “for what reason?” The famous line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” was asking why Romeo had the inauspicious name of Montague, not where he is.
So, as a critic, a vote of thanks for a title that criticizes its own enterprise. “Why Shakespeare in Raleigh?” is the right question for any new production of someone who is already the region’s most frequently seen playwright. In ROMEO AND JULIET, Burning Coal answers it with the performance of Emily Rose White, a local high school junior who ably plays Juliet.
Director Emily Raniiwho played the role in a radically different Burning Coal staging in 2000gives us the Juliet that Shakespeare calls for: a girl just a few weeks shy of 14 who’s placed in an impossible situation. White’s winning performance discloses an impulsive, exuberant child who falls head over heels for the son of her father’s enemy. Joey Heyworth’s Romeo is similarly irrepressible and immature, in well over his head in the gang culture of Verona.
This staging makes it clear that such a child marriage cannot end well. The question remains: When do the wheels come off? Supporting actors including Gil Faison as the Prince, Mark Filiaci and Benji Jones as Lord and Lady Capulet, and Jeff Aguiar as Friar John form a solid structure around the central couple. We’re no doubt meant to get the creeps whenever a smarmy Thaddeus Walker approaches Juliet as a too-old suitor, Paris.
But Mikaela Saccoccio’s choreography seemed gimmicky and stiff, as did swordless duels where actors brandished black folding chairs at each other from across the stage. Still, the verity of the performances convinced us, even when experiments in staging sometimes posed the nagging question, “Wherefore?”