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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Marilyn/God’

No Refund Theatre opens with the first production of their summer season. This week, the organization presents “Marilyn/God.”

Written by Rosary O’Neill and directed by senior Joey Reihart, “Marilyn/God” imagines the journey to the afterlife for Hollywood star Marylin Monroe. As a work of fantasy, the production circles around the postmortem struggle of the iconic bombshell as she attempts to enter the gates of Heaven, still plagued by life’s sins of the past. 

Jumping from Heaven to Earth (and everything in between), the play falls on the dark side of the dramatic comedy genre, telling a story quite different from anything seen in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or Some Like It Hot.” While real-life Monroe appeared confident as the world-famous, most desirable woman of the 1950s, Monroe as the protagonist of “Marilyn/God” complicates the persona displayed on screen, challenged by the world’s objectification of Hollywood’s golden girl.

Taking us back to August 4, 1962, the play stars Marilyn in a state of flux. After death, Monroe awakens stuck in purgatory, stalled with two undesirable pathways to spend eternity: audition for a spot in Heaven or return to Earth through a loved one’s invitation. Here, a chance for redemption emerges as Monroe tries all methods to enter Heaven’s gates, yet finds herself exasperated in the afterlife by the same struggles faced on Earth. As the protagonist attempts the torturous audition process, “Marilyn/God” ends with a cliffhanger finale bound to start up conversation around the struggle of womanhood, identity, and the pressures of public life in a superficial society. 

A commentary on the faultfinding world, “Marilyn/God” brought new challenges to the NRT stage. Written as a one-woman show, the play features a single lead. Due to the nature of the script, leading the production as the sole actress was no easy task for master’s student and former NRT President Emma Cagle. 

“Way back when I was a freshman, this would have been my nightmare,” Cagle said. 

Throughout her time with No Refund Theatre, Cagle has appeared in many productions, as well as directed and co-directed in various seasons. Most recently seen in “Hamlet*” and Five Lesbians Eating A Quiche, Cagle is no stranger to the stage, yet found new feats in “Marilyn/God.” From memorizing 30 pages of dialogue to portraying complexity in monologue style, Cagle conquered the role as a final accomplishment in her NRT career. 

“To not have people onstage with you, that empower you, and help you get through the tough moments of doing a play takes a lot of experience and a lot of confidence in yourself,” Cagle said. “This is definitely something I’ve been working up to for the past four years.” 

When flying solo onstage as Marilyn, there’s no doubt that Cagle finds support behind the scenes from directors and friends, Joey Reihart and Katie Smith. Working as a team, director and senior Joey Reihart explained an early key to success. 

“Katie, Emma, and I were already close before the show, which made the process a lot easier than it would be if we were three strangers,” she said. “It also helped that we had worked on several other productions before.”

While the script of “Marilyn/God” portrays the struggles of the icon with brutal honesty at times, the team found joy as they relied on each other for a rewarding and enjoyable process. 

“It was a lot of fun,” assistant director Katie Smith said. “…Rehearsals always started more like we were hanging out and catching up on life.” 

Studying carefully over the summertime to perfect her take on Marilyn, lead actress Emma Cagle drew upon the friendship built from club connections for confidence in the role. 

“I always feel like it’s easier to try new things and especially to get into the darker emotions on stage when it’s two of my best friends,” she said. “I know that they are gonna be supportive of whatever I do.”

Growing closer together throughout the process, the production team also incorporated other theatrical elements for the finished product including Marilyn-themed costuming, projection and voice recordings, and a cloud-covered stage transforming the venue into Heaven on Earth. 

Even though the live show is truly a cast of one, inclusion remains a key aspect of the production as fellow NRT actors voice key characters in Marilyn’s life including Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller. 

“While not being as involved in the process as one would be while on stage performing, it still is a great feeling to know that the work that you put in is still out there entertaining audiences,” sophomore voice actor Cale Blakely said.

With voice acting accompanying technical projections to set the tone, the physical stage also creates a glittering environment of the great beyond. As the finished product sparkles onstage, the story behind the set falls much in line with classic NRT values of homemade happiness. 

“Joey and Katie had the idea of Poly-fil to make the clouds,” Cagle said. “We put it all over the stage, so the whole stage is now a cloud.” 

While surrounded by the mystical set and supported by the best of friends, Cagle reflected on her connection to Monroe.

“She finds herself in this place where she’s nervous and alone,” Cagle said. “In a lot of ways, what she’s going through on stage is very similar to doing this kind of show.”

Courtesy of No Refund Theatre

A representation of effort and energy for passion, Cagle concluded on her time spent as Marilyn as she faced the challenge of a one-woman show.  

“Even when I was learning, I was like ‘maybe I can’t do this,'” she said. “In a way, we’ve gotten there. Me and Marilyn, together.” 

Marilyn/God will play two open rehearsals at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, and Friday, July 15 for Arts Fest weekend. Performances will be scheduled here. A trigger warning is emphasized for death, loud noises, and sensitive topics. 

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

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology 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 the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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