RICHMOND -- Donte Clark didn't know exactly what to expect when his ambitious adaptation of a Shakespeare classic was released to a wider audience.

"I felt the pressure, no doubt," said Clark, an introspective 23-year-old from North Richmond. "Not only had we hyped it for a long time, but taking on a Shakespeare (play) is really putting it out there."

But Clark's modern rendition of "Romeo and Juliet" didn't disappoint. It sold out a 600-seat auditorium at El Cerrito High School in February and left social media awash in fulsome reviews.

The play, titled "Te's Harmony," uses spoken word, dance, music and theater to tell the story of teenage lovers tangled in a turf war between Central and North Richmond. The Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare's day became the Godfreys and Santiagos in the hands of writer Clark and co-director Rooben Morgan.

Donte Clark, center, gives members of the cast a final talk before the first performance of his play, "Te’s Harmony," in February at El
Donte Clark, center, gives members of the cast a final talk before the first performance of his play, "Te's Harmony," in February at El Cerrito High School. (Matthew Reamer)

Hip-hop dance, popular retail outlets and gunpowder-sparked street feuds replaced the ornate balls and gowns of 16th century Verona, but Clark paid homage to Shakespeare's dramatic structure and expert interplay of comedy and tragedy.

And now it's back, by popular demand, Clark and his cohorts say. The two-hour-plus play will be performed twice more, starting at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Ave.

Clark and the actors, many of whom wrote some of their own monologues, are members of Richmond Artists With Talent (RAW Talent), a creative arts program within the Making Waves Education, a nonprofit dedicated to providing educational support in underserved communities.

"We really felt like there was a demand for an encore," said RAW Talent Coordinator Molly Raynor. "We had to turn people away because we were sold out, and then word-of-mouth only got better after the debut."

Proceeds from the next two performances will be used to sustain RAW Talent programs -- which have seen growing attendance in workshops and "poetry slams" for local youths -- and send several RAW teens to a poetry festival in Chicago this summer, Raynor said.

The play, which Raynor describes as a "an allegory for the socioeconomic conditions haunting their city and their daily lives," traces the lives of Te' Godfrey of North Richmond and Harmony Santiago from Central. They must dare to love in the throes of internecine war between their neighborhoods.

"At one level, the play is about the personalities that we derive from our neighborhoods," Clark said. "Character emerges from the blocks, people are pulled in and shaped by their environments, but in this struggle some people can overcome their situation and challenge the stereotypes. It's about hope; it's positive."

The city has struggled with high violence and homicide rates for decades, much of it stemming from generations of old feuds between families in North and Central Richmond.

While killings have ebbed in recent years, tragedy can still strike in Richmond at any time.

On April 10, 19-year-old Dimarea Young, a close friend of Clark's and participant in the RAW program, was gunned down during the day while jogging with classmates in a job training program.

"Dimarea's death hit everyone hard, especially Donte," Raynor said. "We are dedicating the play to Dimarea because the call to action has never been more urgent. It's showing young people through artistic expression that it's possible to break out of the violence and the intense pressure. In this place, at this time, Te's Harmony feels like more than a play."

The debut screening was a hit by any measure. It sold out early, drawing kids from North and Central Richmond, as well as local leaders and dignitaries. Te's Harmony has been published as a book with Red Beard Press, a youth-run publishing press in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a filmmaker is shooting a documentary that follows the members of RAW Talent as they develop their program.

The success has Clark thinking sequel.

"For my first play, I relied on Shakespeare and used what he put down to guide me in making a story relatable to us, to young people in an urban community today," Clark said. "Now I feel like I can take these characters into more original areas; now I feel confident to expand on what we've started."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.

if you go
What: "Te's Harmony"
When: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: El Cerrito High School Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Ave.
Tickets: Advance tickets are $20 adults/$8 youths (21 and under). At the door, $20-$30 (sliding scale) adults/$10 youths; VIP tickets are $45/all ages. Tickets can be purchased at http://tesharmonyencore.eventbrite.com. Teachers/youth workers who want to bring groups can contact Dionne Teasley at dteasley@making-waves.org for more information on group discounts. A trailer of the performance can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPRh7sAhSWo.