Tonight, Henley Street Theatre/Richmond Shakespeare will present a staged reading of the two works that were being performed the night of the deadly Richmond Theatre fire on Dec. 26, 1811. The readings of The Father, or Family Feuds by Denis Diderot and Raymond and Agness, or The Bleeding Nun by Matthew Gregory Lewis will take place at 7 p.m. at Monumental Church, the site of the fire in which 72 people died, and will follow the same schedule as they did in 1811.
“These plays haven’t been read since 1933, and they have never been read on the site of the fire,” says Jacquie O’Connor, managing director of Henley Street/Richmond Shakespeare. “The readings will actually stop at the exact same place that the people in the Richmond Theatre noticed the fire back in 1811.”
The readings are part of Henley Street/Richmond Shakespeare’s Historical Play Reading Series and will be followed by a talk-back session with Meredith Henne Baker, author of The Richmond Theatre Fire, Early America’s First Great Disaster, along with the Library of Virginia’s Gregg Kimball, Olivier Delers of the University of Richmond, Emily Davis of Historic Richmond, staged reading director Melissa Rayford and the cast (Jonathan Conyers, Christopher Dunn, Lucas Hall, David Janosik, David Maier, Laurel Maughan, Donna Marie Miller, Rebecca Anne Muhleman, Mollie Ort, Aly Wepplo, Liz Blake White, Alex Wiles and Bo Wilson).
The fire started when a chandelier in the crowded theater ignited and flames spread to the hanging drops onstage. Panic ensued, and 54 women and 18 men died in the fire, including Gov. George William Smith and former Sen. Abraham Venable.
Monumental Church, built on the theater’s foundations as a memorial to commemorate the 72 people who died there, celebrated its 200th anniversary on Oct. 2.
The play is being presented in partnership with Historic Richmond and University of Richmond Downtown. Individual tickets are $15 and can be purchased online as well as at the door. There will be free parking in Virginia Department of Transportation lot at 1401 E. Broad St. Wine, beer and food will be provided by Historic Richmond.