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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘The Alibis’

No Refund Theatre (NRT) continued its fall semester slate of shows with its presentation of “The Alibis.” Students can catch a showing beginning on Thursday, November 2, with programming until Saturday, November 4.

NRT’s production is written by Jonathan Dorf, Tyler Dwiggins, Kathryn Funkhouser, Patrick Greene, Mora V. Harris, Carrie McCrossen, Ian McWethy, and Jason Pizzarello with assistant direction by Jesa Burleson, Jacob Franchi, and Melanie Kruse.

The play follows Detective Casey Neptune, a stereotypical 80s-style “good cop, bad cop” detective, and his investigation of eight prime suspects in the murder investigation of free-spirited billionaire J. Leslie Arlington. The show details Neptune’s interrogations of each suspect in an effort to uncover their alibis and bring justice to Arlington’s case. As the suspects’ alibis are revealed, each suspect is exonerated, only on account of their active involvement with other crimes at the time of the murder.

Written as eight short comedies stitched together, what results “The Alibis” is a compelling, hyperbolic, and incriminating spin on a whodunnit-style story.

From a hamster that’s frozen alive, to an assassination ploy that’s foiled on account of a “very gross” mole, each suspect portrays each of their alibis for Neptune’s investigation, all of which are equally compromising as they are hilarious. As the plot progresses and the whereabouts of the show’s eight suspects on the night of Arlington’s death are revealed, the real solution evades both the audience and Detective Neptune to culminate in a grand reveal at the play’s conclusion.

One of the production’s assistant directors, Jesa Burleson, spoke to the process that led the club to present “The Alibis.” “NRT did ‘Clue’ a couple of years back, and I think that was a really great experience for everybody involved,” they said. “I wasn’t on campus at the moment, but through conversations with our director, he was really proud of his performance in that show, found this one, and thought it was a really interesting concept to have eight separate storylines being told through this kind of ‘separated vision’-aspect of the show.”

“He proposed it to demonstrate that NRT can do things in a different way than we’ve done it in the past,” they continued.

For NRT, coordinating a show with many split components was a challenge creatively and logistically, especially among a group of assistant directors. Burleson talked about the approach the club took to creating a cohesive production with so few inter-character interactions.

“[Coordinating the show] was difficult at first,” they said. “We broke it down into individual scenes and we had our detective…and butler character[s] attend each of those rehearsals so we could also run their interrogation interlude things as well.”

“In terms of bringing it all together, we prefaced the show by saying that ‘every cast member would have a main character, their principal character.’ In other alibis that they are a part of, their characters in those should reflect the principal character. I think that really helped them bring the show together in their heads,” they continued.

Burleson continued by speaking to their perspective as one of the show’s assistant directors and the role’s involvement with rehearsals and putting pieces of the show together.

“It was a lot,” they said. “I had some experience scheduling for other theater productions so that was definitely helpful, but it involved a lot of spreadsheets, a lot of breaking people down into groups, and seeing when we could get everybody in the same place at the same time. Especially for the bigger scenes, it was really quite difficult.”

In coordinating a very split production in a group assistant directorial team, Burleson praised the cast for allowing the production to work so well.

“I’ve been floored every night by how this has come together because we’re doing it so separate [sic] from the very start. I think the detective and the butler characters help tie the storyline together and they’ve been doing a great job with that. It helps that they’ve seen the entire process there as well,” they said.

As their first experience with assistant directing an NRT production, Burleson also offered praise for their co-assistant directors.

“[Assistant directing] has been quite the learning process. I say we’ve been partners in crime, it’s been really fun.”

Taking center stage, Robin Goodfellow took on the role of Detective Casey Neptune, one of the production’s only characters who interacts with the show’s entire cast.

“I think it was a lot of fun to get to interact with all of the characters,” Goodfellow said. “I got to develop a relationship with each of them, character to character, and get close with all of the castmates which was a lot of fun.”

“I think that, in general, it was a lot of fun to have all of the characters be different but sort of the same at the same time. I’m supposed to keep up this act of ‘I’m a really cool detective and you need to respect me!’ Towards the end in the epilogues of each of the alibis, it ends up coming down,” they explained.

Assistant director Jacob Franchi talked about how “The Alibis” came together from its component parts almost before his eyes. “It was really cool to see,” he said. “Originally we tackled it in segments, and as we came closer and closer to tech week, we started to condense it into the full show. It was like watching a bunch of pieces of a puzzle come together. You had all of these separate parts that were already amazing on their own, and then they came together to create something even more grand. That was an awesome feeling to have and watch.”

Between reading “The Alibis” first as a script, and later seeing its performance with the cast at NRT, Franchi saw how the show came together with the cast’s spin on the production in rehearsal.

“It was something I could have never prepared for in such an awesome way,” he said. “Both in a way I expected and in a way I hadn’t expected, I knew it was going to come together and be awesome, but I didn’t know exactly how it was going to look.”

“In a way, it was impossible to tell, even with the script, just how the actors were going to take their characters…and find what works for them. Seeing it all come together for the first time was such an amazing experience and [was] so unique,” he continued.

When discussing his choice to assistant direct a production, Franchi spoke to the fact that “The Alibis” was a natural fit.

“Going into it I had not heard of ‘The Alibis.’ I heard NRT was putting it on and I looked through the script and immediately fell in love with the cast of characters,” he said. “[They all] bring such a different kind of comedy to every scene. I saw [the script] and said ‘I want to AD for this one.'”

For Nathan Carter, in their role as Sparky Randall, taking the part of Arlington’s questionable lawyer and “fixer” wasn’t always clear.

“I think I had other roles in mind. To be honest, the role that I have right now wasn’t exactly on my radar. The thing I love about…the show, is that all the roles, no matter what role you have, there’s such a chance to shine,” Carter said.

“Even though I was looking towards other roles, I find that playing Sparky…and then playing my more minor characters…I still have just as good of a time,” they continued.

On the topic of the rehearsal process, like most of the crew involved with the production, Carter spoke of the excitement and satisfaction of seeing the final product come together.

“There were points where I didn’t see other scenes that I wasn’t in, or we didn’t get around to me being a minor character in a scene until later,” they said.

“Seeing it come together at the end, it feels very much like a more cohesive piece… At the end, it’s a nice satisfying ending to all of those stories, and seeing all of those come together now in tech week is exciting because it all looks really good,” they continued.

The production’s third assistant director, Melanie Kruse, began by offering her praise for the cast in navigating a show where its translation to the stage wasn’t always clear.

“I am so impressed with the actors and how well they have done. Doing the rehearsals in chunks where only a couple of actors were there every day was a difficult thing for some of the actors to do because it’s not quite how they were used to doing it,” Kruse said.

“Seeing it all come together at the end is very cool. Robin…doing the monologue to bring everything together is really impressive,” she continued.

As a member of the assistant directorial staff, Kruse saw firsthand how the show molded the cast’s creative abilities with NRT’s production.

“Seeing all of them audition, and seeing them get to be up there on stage, I can see how much they’ve progressed over the process and really come into their own with their characters,” she said.

“I remember the first read-through…and just seeing how far they’ve come from doing character work to get who they are as the characters…it’s very impressive,” Kruse continued. “I’ve never been an actor so it’s very interesting to watch the whole process from auditioning, to casting, to the whole show.”

Kruse also talked about the uniqueness of NRT’s productions of smaller shows, often for a funnier or new perspective for an audience.

“One of my favorite things about NRT is how it does smaller shows,” she explained. “Our sister club, Thespians, they do more Broadway, big name shows…I like that we give some recognition to smaller playwrights. I think a lot of the smaller shows we do are really funny, I mean, I love this show.”

As always, No Refund Theatre offers its shows free of charge to anyone interested in attending. Showings of “The Alibis” will take place at 9 p.m. beginning on Thursday, November 2, with two additional shows slated for 8 p.m. on November 3 and 4. All shows will take place in Forum 111.

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About the Author

Luke Pieczynski

Luke is a sophomore DUS premajor hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, and is one of Onward State's social media editors. He can often be found in the Starbucks line waiting for a nitro cold brew, or listening to one of Dua Lipa's latest releases. He's a fiercely loyal Sheetz Freak and will not settle for another Pennsylvania gas station. Please send your best political thriller to him on Twitter @lukepie11 or to his email [email protected].

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