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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Clue’

No Refund Theatre returns this week with another production in its spring catalog. This week, the organization presents “Clue”.

With a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, the production brings the classic board game to life on stage as the ultimate murder mystery. Blissfully maniacal and infused with physical comedy, the script by Sandy Rustin leaves one belly-laughing through each act, cleverly adapted to the stage from the original screenplay by Jonathan Lynn.

Directed by Alison Shifflett and based on both the 1985 cult-classic film and iconic Hasbro game, Clue revolves around six characters known by anyone who’s rolled the dice. Invited to a dinner party by their blackmailer, guests including Colonel Mustard, Miss Scarlett, and Professor Plum become uniquely motivated by weaponry gifted and secrets spilled within the spooky Boddy Manor to murder accomplices. Ran by Wadsworth, the peculiar and exuberant butler, the evening quickly sours when the blackmail is exposed and the body count grows.

With the threat of police arrival, chaos ensues, leaving the characters desperate for clues as they search the mansion. As they travel to classic locations straight off the board, the murderous crew sparks a crazy night of ups, downs, and all-arounds for all. Comically looking for clues in the manor, the guests bring the audience of Forum 111 along for the ride, attempting to answer the classic questions of who, where, and with what.

Within the script, third-year student and director Alison Shifflett found inspiration to bring the show to NRT. Discovering the whacky yet beloved characters and hilarious comedic aspects, Shifflett knew it would be perfect for the current talent of the organization.

“I loved Clue. NRT did this show a few years ago, and I wanted to bring back a rendition of it,” said the director.

In bringing the cult classic back to the No Refund Theatre stage, Shifflett found the unique opportunity to put her own spin on the work, perfectly aligned with classic NRT passions of inclusion and representation.

“We went with gender-blind casting, so if we saw someone that we liked for the part, it didn’t matter what their gender was,” said Shifflett. “We just cast them in that part.”

In utilizing these classic roles with challenges to gender stereotypes, the production reflects comedy with a modern perspective. Adapting well-known characters such as Mrs. White and Mr. Boddy in true gender-swap style, tradition meets creativity of the 21st century as an innovative update for a contemporary audience.

Revitalizing the story in this way, cast and crew members were granted the ability to play with the gender spectrum, an opportunity often unseen within comedic works.

By adapting the scripts to challenge gender roles on stage, Shifflett expanded horizons for both comedy and representation. Playing the role of blackmailing con artist Mrs. Boddy as gender-swapped, third-year Olivia Black expanded upon this unique opportunity.

“It’s given me more creative freedom,” said Black. “Switching the roles by having some male that were traditionally female and some female that were traditionally male definitely opens up a conversation.”

Within this conversation presented, second-year Muggs Leone also found joy in representation. From sky-high heels to detailed makeup as the cunning bombshell Miss Scarlett, Leone expanded upon their experience as both complex and comedic.

“It is very fun, especially as a nonbinary person,” they said. “As someone who is usually a man or androgynous in day-to-day life, playing a seductive woman is really fun.”

In addition to comedy, the role brings aspects of power and persuasion to the show, serving as a true symbol of female empowerment, especially important to Leone when bringing the classic character to life.

“It’s more interesting to play her as someone who is flirting her way into secrets,” Leone said. “But, [she] still has those boundaries for herself.”

Outlining the core six characters with another strong female lead is third-year Lindsey Sabo. Playing the role of Mrs. Peacock, Sabo expanded upon emotions associated with the zany, bright-eyed, and eccentric character.

“She is proud of who she is as a prominent woman in society,” said Sabo. “It’s really great to be able to have that confidence, especially when I don’t always have that kind of confidence in real life.”

Continuing the conversation of self-expression onstage, Sabo elaborated on just how this confidence was achieved during her first production with No Refund Theatre.

“I had never been in an NRT show before, so getting to do one with my roommate as the director and one of my best friends as the assistant director has been so fun,” she said. “There’s never a dull moment at a rehearsal.”

With strong friendships and inclusivity championed on the individual level, the cast found a connection to challenge gender stereotyping and bring joy to the NRT stage. In classic cast bonding, the group even brought a bit of the game into their own lives.

“We had a dinner party at one point,” said third-year Isaac Manfull. “We just kind of improv’d our way through the whole thing!”

Second-year Ian Dargitz also elaborated on the happiness discovered within the production process as a beginner in his first-ever theatrical pursuit.

“It was a fantastic learning experience,” said Dargitz. “I think NRT was the perfect environment for it.”

In concluding his first show, Dargitz expressed his thankfulness for both the production and the friendships forged.

“We had a good time,” he said. “I love everyone in the cast.”

Through these deep connections discovered, the cast found trust to explore the classic script even further. Utilizing improv throughout the show, each member has the opportunity to spark creativity and play up their role, resulting in humorous bits and pieces that challenge audience members to listen closely and carefully.

“When you start to get in the rhythm with everyone, that’s when it starts to become the most fun,” said fourth-year Connor DiBella. 

Playing the lead role of Wadsworth, the mysterious yet hilarious butler, DiBella rose to the challenges of the role including in-depth dialogue, physical comedy, and keeping the kitchen tidy in classic Tim Curry fashion.

“The beginning is pretty serious, but then when things take off, they take off!” said DiBella. 

With joy oozing from the stage into the audience, moments of improv allow for laughter to uplift Forum 111. Emphasizing this happiness, DiBella shared a final reflection of gratitude for his last production at Penn State.

“Rehearsals never felt like work,” said DiBella. “I couldn’t have asked for a better show to go out on.”

Elaborating on the community founded in the cast, third-year student Ethan White explained his philosophy for the ease discovered as a team bouncing off each other’s commentary in the production.

“I feel comfortable talking to them as people, so it makes me feel more comfortable talking to them as my character,” he explained.

Echoing sentiments of happiness onstage, fifth-year Noah Schmitt revealed a key fact in his NRT journey. Joining the organization within the cast of Clue in 2017, Schmitt now lives out a full-circle moment by returning to the current production as Mr. White.

“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do Clue again,” said Schmitt. “It was my first show ever with the club, and this is my very last show.”

Remaining grateful for his time with No Refund Theatre, Schmitt brings light and energy to the stage as the dismal, daunting, and gender-swapped Mr. White. Closing out this show before graduation, Schmitt is in good company with fourth-year and technical Jess Raskauskas, who shared the bittersweet feeling associated with ending an NRT career.

“This really is the best show to go out with the best people,” said technical director Jess Raskauskas. “They made me feel so capable, so smart, and so able to take care of this.”

As technical director for the show, Raskauskas faced challenges in bringing the board game to life. With special effects including weaponry crashes, lightning, and the iconic Clue soundtrack, technical elements shined just as brightly as the core cast onstage.

“This is the most tech-heavy NRT show I’ve ever done and I got very lucky with the tech that I have,” she said. “Seeing it all come together is so cool because there’s so many moving parts.”

In addition to technical elements run by the team, interactive components combine to create an immersive environment for the audience. A fun element of audience inclusion, the core six’s search party throughout the room makes it feel as though one is also playing along.

“One thing that we are really lucky to have this space,” said third-year student and assistant director Lizzy Scipione. “We wanted to utilize this space as much as possible to further the atmosphere and make the audience feel as immersed in the show as possible.”

Undoubtedly fulfilling this goal with both audience interaction and spatial utilization, Forum 111 transforms into Boddy Manor. For audience members turned dinner party guests, the excitement is inevitable.

From the moment one steps into the space, they are not only in the show but in the game as well. Here, a key element emerges as a comedic and creative gemstone for the production — a massive game spinner mounted at the very top of the set. 

Labeled with locations such as Hall, Study, or Lounge, the game spinner indicates the room of each scene, leaving the audience clues throughout the production for where each crime is committed. Following along closely as the game spinner rotates, one just might fill in the blanks to solve the crime before the finale reveals the confidential information.

“Having it be practical is just so fun, very reminiscent of the game,” said stage manager and fifth-year student Grace Southern.

Tracking movement within the mansion as a clever nod to the nostalgia of childhood board games, the game spinner comically includes a recognizable location. Included with classic rooms of the original game is Forum, a comedic addition of Penn State pride to the story.

“I was like, ‘how funny would it be if we put Forum on there?’” said Southern.

A bright spot within the darkened, moody manor, the game spinner adds to the sentimentality and laughter of the audience. An original goal for director Alison Shifflett, this joy remains an important message in the comedy.

“It’s really to be uplifting,” said Shifflett. “You never really know what someone is going through, so I wanted to create a space where people can just come and laugh at our jokes, and just enjoy live theatre again.”

“I would just like the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy it,” said the director.

Clue premieres at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 31, in Forum 111. Two more showings are slated for 8 p.m. on Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2. Trigger warnings are emphasized for language, loud sound effects, violence, and flashing lights.

As always, all No Refund Theatre productions are free of charge.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a sophomore with an undecided major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang with her sassy sidekick, 17-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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