The Richmond Shakespeare Festival is back – and better than ever! – on a stage behind Agecroft Hall, the Tudor manor house that was transported across the Atlantic to be rebuilt in what is now a suburban neighborhood.
If you haven’t found your way to the Shakespeare Festival over the course of the last twenty-plus summers, I’m here to tell you now is the time and The School for Lies is the show.
First, this setting is the perfect way to experience classic theatre with a date, a friend, or your whole theatre-loving family. I admit, I was skeptical when the stage moved to the lawn, but I am all in now. It’s downright delightful to sit outside on folding chairs with your people and enjoy your beverage and snacks of choice during a fabulous show.
“The School for Lies” is Funny, Clever, and Laugh-Packed
Not only is the ambience ideal, but The School For Lies, the Shakespeare-adjacent play that is being staged through June 25, is cute, clever, easy to digest, and – like the atmosphere at Agecroft – downright delightful. I hear you, Shakespeare purists, saying, “Shakespeare-adjacent? This isn’t even Shakespeare! Why is it part of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival?” And to you I say, maybe the second show is more to your liking; The Comedy of Errors runs July 6 through 30 at Agecroft.
As for the The School for Lies, they had me at contemporary couplets, thank you very much. I am that theatre lover who has read a lot of Shakespeare and wants to like Shakespeare, but still has to do a pre-show review of the plot and devote the first fifteen minutes of every show to acclimating to the language of the era. Not so with The School for Lies.
Directed by James Ricks, this well-paced wild farce is full of laughs, all in very contemporary couplets, as it runs variations on Molière’s The Misanthrope, which inspired it.
It’s 1666 and the brightest, wittiest salon is that of Celimene, a beautiful young widow so known for her satiric tongue, she’s being sued for it. Surrounded by shallow suitors, whom she lives off of without surrendering to, Celimene has managed to evade love since her beloved husband died—until today, when the mysterious Frank appears. A traveler from England known for his own wit and acidic tongue, Frank turns Celimene’s world upside-down, taking on her suitors, matching her barb for barb, and teaching her how to live again. (Never mind that their love affair has been engineered by a couple of well-placed lies.)
Full of laughs, likable characters, and fun cases of mistaken identity, The School for Lies is hilarious and very well-acted. Following the romance or lack thereof of young people, the show features a cast of beautiful people in gorgeous costumes (special shout-out here to Cora Delbridge). Richmond stage standout Lindsey Zelli, who last shone at Swift Creek Mill in Gaslight, oozes star power as Celimene. Kylee Márquez-Downie also lights up the stage as Eliante, the young protege. Adam Turk, Joshua Mullins, Daniel Dangle, and Evan Nasteff are all superb as the suitors of Celimene and Eliante. Hogan Holt in a dual role is a comedic treat, and Sara Dabney Tisdale’s southern drawl is comedic gold as a meddling friend of Celimene.
If anyone steals this show, it’s Matt Mitchell as Frank. I spent most of the play thinking I knew him from somewhere and was surprised to see he has recently moved back to the area after a nine-year-absence. So no, his performance was so genuine and enjoyable that it only seemed like he was an old friend.
The sound for the show was suburb, but as it was an outdoor production, all of the actors were in competition with the evening chorus of crickets and frogs at Agecroft (part of the charm of the performance). Performed in two acts with an intermission, The School for Lies is light, entertaining, delightful, and everything you’d want in a summer festival show. The natural backdrop of Agecroft Hall makes it a perfect night out with friends or theatre-loving families with kids in middle school or older.
The first production of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall, The School for Lies runs through June 25. $20 rush tickets are available on select nights. For showtimes and tickets, visit RichmondShakes.
What to Know About the Richmond Shakespeare Festival at Agecroft Hall
Summer nights in Richmond are unpredictable to say the least. Of course, weather is a factor, and there are other questions related to the outdoor stage at Agecroft Hall.
Do I need to bring my own chair? Yes, the stage is on the back lawn of Agecroft Hall, where you’ll have a wonderful view of the James, the summer sky, and Richmond Shakespeare’s performance of The School for Lies. It also means you’re not crowded into seats in the round and there’s plenty of room to spread out.
Is seating general admission, and what time should I arrive to get a good seat? Seating is general admission. Gates open at 6 p.m. Blankets*, chairs, and small coolers holding picnic items are permitted. You can picnic on the grounds before the show, or arrive closer to showtime at 7:30 p.m. and eat in your seats (we did this) or on your blanket in front of the stage. Umbrellas, tents, tables, and other shelters are prohibited in general lawn seating. In this lawn setting, you can also enjoy snacks and drinks during the show without interrupting the performance for your neighbors.
*If you’re bringing a blanket, arrive extra early and set up in what you would think of as the front row and allow chairs to fill in behind you. The majority of guests were in chairs.
Apply bug spray before you set up and reapply at intermission if the bugs like you.
What if it rains? Decisions about postponing or cancelling a show due to weather will be made before 7:00 p.m., depending on weather forecasts.
Should the show be cancelled at any point prior to intermission, tickets may be rescheduled for a future performance during the 2023 Richmond Shakespeare Festival.
Are there concessions on the grounds? There is a concession stand, which sells soft drinks, waters, and various snacks before the show and at intermission. Frozen Delights was also on the grounds the night we saw the show. I recommend the mango papaya sorbet.