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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘Austenland’

No Refund Theatre returns with the fourth production of its spring catalog. This week, the organization presents “Austenland.” 

Written by Jerusha Hess and Shannon Hale and directed by Hannah Recchiuti-Quier, “Austenland” turns Forum 111 into an immersive, Regency-era fantasyland. Set in modern London, the production follows 30-year-old bookworm Jane Hayes as she travels to the themed resort of the same name. 

Desperate for excitement, Hayes quickly falls into the swing of things at Austenland and meets the owner, Mrs. Wattlesbrook. An eccentric older woman benefitting from the delusions of Austen-obsessed adults, the character is a hidden powerhouse behind the scenes and directs a cast of actors staged throughout Austenland.

Deception is the name of the game, but actors slowly break character for true love. As Jane navigates her way through the pomp and circumstance to find the truth, a clear lesson emerges: While quirks and kicks are different for everyone, we can all find a place to call home. 

Courtesy of NRT

While each character in the production finds purpose in their surroundings, the absurdity of Austenland is by design. 

“It’s kind of one of those bygone era theme parks,” sophomore Cale Blakely said. “They were always popping up left and right, and they’d go out of business soon enough.”

Based on the 2013 movie of the same name, the production serves as a light-hearted commentary on the beloved stories of Austen’s famous collection. As an English major, director Hannah Recchiuti-Quier can appreciate the tribute to Austen while also highlighting the craziness of the script. 

“I am a fan of Jane Austen, but that’s not why I picked this show,” Recchiuti-Quier said. “This show is so funny because it plays into these Jane Austen tropes that are very cliche, and it elaborates on that cringe.”

Designing a pink set with a floral motif, Recchiuti-Quier found her cast to represent the script’s interpretation of classic “Pride and Prejudice” characters. This includes leading man Henry Nobly as Mr. Darcy and a rebellious stable boy character to represent George Wickham. 

Courtesy of NRT

“I advised the cast members to not play the character that’s in the movie, and I think that they took that well and made the characters their own,” Recchiuti-Quier said. “Overall, I think it’s true to where the scenes are, but I feel like this is a totally different show than the movie.”

Playing the role of Henry Nobley, junior Michael Hall explained his character’s depth. As the leading man who eventually defies the odds, Nobly is the only character in the show truthful in his intentions as he finds love in the artificial world. 

“Henry Nobley is not an actor,” Hall said. “He is the one who actually falls in love with Jane. He’s a little bit more serious and a little more strict, but then he loosens up for her.” 

A standout pillar from the rest of the absurdity, the character displays honesty in Austenland. Playing alongside Hall is sophomore Kylee Waller, who portrays Jane Hayes.

Previously appearing in the School of Theatre’s drama Mock, Waller is happy to take on a comedic challenge for NRT.

“Jane takes a break from reality to go to Austenland and through the good, the bad, and the different, she has a great time,” Waller said. “Don’t take it too seriously. It’s silly, so you can laugh, giggle, and cheer.”

Courtesy of NRT

Building up comedic elements, junior Ella Bradner reflected on her character, Elizabeth Charming. A rich single woman traveling to Austenland for the thrill of it all, Charming is based on 2000s icon Jennifer Coolidge and adds another zany twist.

“If you love Jane Austen, you’ll love this show,” Bradner said. “If you hate Jane Austen, you’ll like it even more.”

Furthering the “anything goes” nature of Austenland, another artistic choice is bound to trigger laughter. Played by junior Jonathan Yourchak, Mr. Wattlesbrook is the slow-to-move, scheming husband of Austenland’s owner.

In the true NRT spirit, he’s also played by a puppet. 

Courtesy of NRT

“The show itself is kind of absurd in the best way possible,” Yourchak said. “And then, you have this puppet amongst the real people. I think Mrs. Wattlesbrook really does all the work, and he just kind of enjoys the work that she does.”

Acting against a grey-haired puppet, senior Emily Stedina plays the role of Mrs. Wattlesbrook. Portraying the brains behind the Austenland operation, Stedina explained how the unique characters find connection.

“There’s someone for everyone,” Stedina said. “And, there’s always a place where you can fit in.”

Echoing sentiments of friendship, freshman Matt O’Donnell revealed the key similarities between themes of “Austenland” and the club’s overall values.

“It’s very much all about the love of theatre,” O’Donnell said. “It’s about having fun and being with your friends and putting together a good show.”

Courtesy of NRT

Staying true to the club’s mission of inclusive theatre, director Recchiuti-Quier incorporated a few easter eggs to engage the audience and increase enjoyment for all involved. 

“If there’s anything I’m most excited about, it’s just for them to see the little things that we added to the show,” she said. “They are little gags for us that I hope they can take note of.”

One such element includes a club-wide mascot, the birthday cat. Quickly becoming a representative of “Austenland,” the sketch can be found in a variety of places on the set and is the result of Recchiuti-Quier’s artistic endeavors. 

“In one of our first rehearsals in Forum, I drew a cat on the board,” Recchiuti-Quier said. “I usually like to draw cats…and it just soared.”

A simple drawing turned NRT icon, the imagery is also found on the official poster for the production. After reflecting on the humorous nature of the mascot, Recchiuti-Quier shared a final message of inclusivity seen within both “Austenland” and No Refund Theatre each season.

Courtesy of NRT

“Embrace the cringe,” Recchiuti-Quier said. “These characters are unapologetically themselves, and they’ve each found a place where they’ve fit in, regardless of who they are.”

“I think that that’s special,” she said. 

Three performances of “Austenland” will begin at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 23, Friday, February 24, and Saturday, February 25, in Forum 111. A trigger warning is emphasized for simulated violence and language.

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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