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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Hallowed Ground’

No Refund Theatre returns with the fifth production in its fall catalog. This week, the organization presents “Hallowed Ground.”

Written and directed by fourth-year student Joey Reihart, “Hallowed Ground” tells the story of a simple farm family, including George, Betty, Annamarie, and Clarabelle Williams, navigating the hardships of prairie life during the Dust Bowl of 1934.

As disaster strikes in Oklahoma and drought hits the farmland, the family begins to starve as the once-bountiful harvest fails against extreme weather conditions. Under pressure to feed his wife and daughters, father George searches for a solution but only discovers more issues inside his humble home in addition to the empty fields outside its country windows.

Optimistically blind to the true danger around the corner, George ensures his reluctant wife, Betty, that all will be okay, quelling her worries as she urges George to relocate the family elsewhere to escape. Yet as the dust settles, Betty’s cries fall on deaf ears, and the patriarch becomes more misguided in his tragic quest to save the day.

As George ventures off further from his holy path in the utter confusion of right and wrong, a clear lesson emerges: It’s the actions taken by the dark of night that define who we are in the light of day. 

Spearheading the production as both the NRT director and original writer of “Hallowed Ground,” Reihart shared the meaning of this project, three years in the making.

“Hallowed ground is kind of like a holy ground, a religious place,” Reihart said. “Which ties in with a lot of the religious symbolism in this show.” 

Engrained deeply into the family’s struggle, each character grapples with religious beliefs throughout the production, weaving in and out of right and wrong and that dangerous middle ground in-between. 

“It is the frame for the Williams’ family moral code,” said senior Nikolai Korbich. “It is sometimes a bit helpful to them in making decisions, but sometimes it can be a detriment as well.”

Infusing the plot with pious themes juxtaposed against extreme thematic elements, Reihart started the process by first finding her cast. After solely envisioning the characters in her head throughout the lengthy writing process, it was important for Reihart to take a strategic approach to bring each one to life. 

“My biggest mindset going in was that I didn’t want to have this very set vision… I didn’t want to have a strict idea of each character,” Reihart said. “I wanted to have as open a mind as humanly possible.” 

Willing to look deeper into the story, Reihart discovered third-year Andrew Komer for the role of Simon Turner, a comedic antagonist in the production. Formerly cast in dramatic parts, Komer brings a lightness to Reihart’s original depiction, much to the delight of both director and actor. 

“It’s a breath of fresh air, as I’m usually cast in a serious role,” Komer said. “I enjoy bringing the laughs to the audience, especially in a more serious show.”

Courtesy of Joey Reihart

Discovering her team during the second round of No Refund Theatre’s fall auditions, Reihart was thrilled with the talent available and found her perfect cast in both new members and an NRT veteran.

“We all really strived to just create what she wanted and what she wrote,” second-year Ashley Russo said. “To just bring her vision to life.”

Working closely with the production team to align talent with Reihart’s vision, actor and senior Nikolai Korbich explained just how unique the experience was throughout the process due to the duality of Reihart’s role. 

“It all came from her brain, so it was nice to work with the director who wrote the script,” Korbich said. “With Joey, it’s very firsthand, it’s her script and her idea, and she knows what she wants out of this show, which is nice to work with.”

Courtesy of Joey Reihart

Playing the lead role of George Williams, Korbich explained his personal experience working with the cast both on and offstage. 

“I was so impressed with the work ethic they brought,” Korbich said. “It was nice getting to do this with so many new people and getting to introduce them to the club.” 

An NRT veteran, Korbich plays the patriarch of the Williams family alongside actors Christina Ellis and Jillian Guthrie. Acting in the role of youngest daughter, Annamarie, Guthrie, a fourth-year student, explained her path to No Refund Theatre in her final year of college

“It has been something that I’ve been wanting to do for a really long time,” Guthrie said. “I was always too scared to audition… It was always this passion that I really wanted to do, and I just finally forced myself to do it this year.” 

Passions aligned and ignited by Reihart’s support, first-year actor Christina Ellis explained her pride in the script itself as well as admiration for its creator, Reihart. 

“I have a lot of respect for Joey and her passion and drive to write a whole show by herself,” Ellis said. “The callbacks, the intricacies, and the thoughtfulness of it…. it was amazing.”

Emphasizing this message, Guthrie echoed similar sentiments of gratitude for Reihart’s work, as well as the safe space created for all throughout the process. 

“Joey is so creative, and I just have so much respect for her,” Guthrie said. “I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to have this little family in this cast, and I hope that we can always carry that connection forward.” 

Reihart also incorporated elements such as character representation, dynamic set design, and a layered soundtrack into the production to add some creativity and add original vision back into the story.

“There’s actually an album by the Violent Femmes called “Hallowed Ground,” and I found some inspiration there,” Reihart said. “In the beginning of Act 1, the scenes are a little more lighthearted, but after everything happens, we kind of get darker and darker as the soundtrack goes on.” 

Against the soundtrack slowly twisting from folk music to murky themes, Reihart also imagined two LGBTQ+ characters in the production and designed their story as a high point against the dismal reality of each character suffering in the Dust Bowl.

“They do go through rough patches despite their situation and truly, at the end, they are the only people with a happy ending,” Reihart said. “When we think of queer content and queer people during this time, typically they don’t usually have a happy ending, so I wanted to make sure when writing this story, even though a lot of dark things happening, at least we got one win.”

Finding a patch of light in the dark story, Reihart allowed peace for a subset of characters, symbolizing the highs and lows of life as different fates meet the diverse people of the prairie. As characters make choices and live with each action, lead actor Nikolai Korbich shared a final take on the play’s transparency beyond its darkness. 

“It all has to do with right and wrong and the gray area between right and wrong,” Korbich said. “People can have good and correct motivations, but it doesn’t always mean that their actions are correct.” 

Three performances of “Hallowed Ground” will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 20, Friday, October 21, and Saturday, October 22, in Forum 111. A trigger warning is emphasized for depictions of violence, language, and sexual content.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior 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, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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