No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Blithe Spirit’
No Refund Theatre returns with the sixth production in its fall catalog. This week, the organization presents “Blithe Spirit.”
Written by playwright Noël Coward and directed by third-year Alexis Dauley, “Blithe Spirit” serves as a comedy of ghouls and girls, blurring the boundary between life and death with spooky zest. Just in time for Halloweekend, the play centers around fictional character Charles Condomine, a British gentleman widowed and remarried to his second wife, Ruth.
Living in Kent, England, in the 1940s, the couple enjoys a rich existence until a fateful night changes their lives forever. In a flash, the ghost of Charles’ deceased wife, Elvira, is summoned back to earth by the entertainment at a quaint dinner party, creating an awkward yet hilarious situation as only Charles can directly see and communicate with Elvira’s ghost.
Shocking her former husband and stirring up trouble for the couple, Elvira schemes by night through the luxury home, tricking Ruth endlessly with troublesome pranks and treating Charles to a timely taste of revenge, ex-lover style. As disaster strikes humorously for the audience, a clear theme emerges: while mistakes are inevitable for mere mortals, life and death must be lived to the fullest.
Studying the background of author Noël Coward, director Alexis Dauley remembered the origins of the story, respectful of its history and intentions.
“The show was written in four days after his flat in London was destroyed in the Blitz,” Dauley said. “He wanted someone that would make people laugh, and I wanted something that would lift the spirits of the people in the club.”
Bringing the script to NRT, Dauley kept the artistic goal of Coward’s in mind throughout the process, making a clear effort to prioritize joy for all involved.
“I really wanted to direct something for this club,” Dauley said. “I love it so much, and I have a lot of passion for it.”
Finding her perfect cast of both NRT veterans and new members, Dauley was thrilled to work alongside assistant directors Sofia Rosenbaum and Tess Murphy to create a fulfilling experience for each person in cast and crew.
“I remember being a freshman and being so lost, and I didn’t really know so much about NRT,” Dauley said. “Having the new people and the older people can help them get involved more and help show them the ropes in a way.”
Reflecting on their first production with No Refund Theatre, first-years Audrey Cressler and James Myers spoke to the passion and community discovered with NRT in their first semester on campus, much aligned with Dauley’s vision.
“Since there’s only seven people in this show, we all got really tight really quickly,” Myers said.
Speaking to when she first read the cast list, Cressler shared her simple feelings on the unforgettable moment.
“I was so excited,” Cressler said. “I was just floored and really, really happy.”
Casting the show back at the beginning of this semester, the production team hit the ground running for preparation, rehearsing two to four times a week since September.
Bringing the older work to Penn State, Dauley incorporated a variety of technical elements into the show, most obviously seen in the supernatural features of the ghost characters presented onstage. With a bit of fishing wire and a lot of coordination, the audience can expect moving set pieces and props, as well as dramatic lighting and sound that creates a haunted feel.
Speaking to the technical elements of the show, fourth-year Lizzy Scipione shared their perspective on the final product.
“It’s really cool being onstage and watching people do technical work,” they said. “I’m usually one of the people who does it, so watching it happen is really really cool.”
Fulfilling a variety of technical roles with the club in the past, Scipione presents a unique and experienced view, especially from the other side of things this time around.
“It definitely always feels like we are taking the production up a step when we are able to have creepy stuff,” they said. “…that is kind of out of the ordinary like that.”
After previously providing technical leadership for NRT productions, including IN last fall’s The Intimate Life of Eliza Logan, Scipione fulfills the role of lead actor in this production, playing a part much different than anything she’s encountered before.
“I’ve never played a character that was genuinely unlikable,” they said. “When playing her, I really had to find sympathy for her and why she had major reactions to little things.”
Next to Scipione while playing the role of Charles’ second wife, Ruth, second-year actor Angelina Smith shared her strategy for conquering the task.
“There’s a lot of layers to it, and we did character work early to create deep backgrounds for the characters,” Smith said. “Overall, I have a lot more sympathy for all of them, and it was a lot more emotionally fulfilling to play this role than I might have thought it would be on the surface.”
Acting beside both Scipione and Smith as Charles Condomine, third-year Nathan Carter explained his gratitude for the character work put in behind the scenes for productivity onstage.
“Getting in touch with him made me connect with him more,” Carter said. “It definitely helped me play him much more effectively.”
After working through the challenging content with her cast, Dauley shared a final reflection on the production timeline.
“They blew me away,” Dauley said. “I remember when we first cast them and then every day, they were just so amazing. They worked so hard, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Three performances of “Blithe Spirit” will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 27, Friday, October 28, and Saturday, October 29, in Forum 111. A content warning is emphasized for death and sudden loud noises.
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