If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre (think Princess Bride or Pan’s Labyrinth) then you should make time to see She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen. Six Elements Theatre presents this quick-moving, thoughtful play at the Playwrights’ Center now through Nov 7. The year is 1996, and we meet Agnes Evans (Jessica Smith) who is pretty average. She’s a teacher, and she’s about to move in with her boyfriend of five years. After her parents and younger sister, Tilly (Samantha Smith), are killed in a car accident, Agnes is left to clean out their house and she finds one of Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebooks.
Not knowing anything about D&D, Agnes recruits Chuck (Aaron Ruder), a high schooler, to be her dungeon master to help her play through Tilly’s story. Now, if you happened to glaze over at the mention of D&D, keep an open mind. Because like I said, fantasy-lovers across the board can appreciate this play. I’ve never played D&D or any other role-playing game, and I easily got into the story and enjoyed the fictitious creatures, ranging from bugbears to a lethal fairy to a gelatinous cube. A friend was able to confirm that the story stayed true to D&D, however, so I was grateful to have him there to drop some D&D knowledge on me.
Agnes dives into Tilly’s world because she feels like she never really connected with her sister. Now that she has a chance to get to know her better, Agnes wants to take advantage of the opportunity. As Chuck leads her through the story, the play jumps back and forth between reality and fiction. It’s an easy-to-follow flow, although some scenes feel a bit short. Agnes meets Tilly’s party, and we find out the devilish Orcus (Hunter Teasley) has sold Tilly’s soul so they embark on a quest to retrieve it. This is quite unlike anything Agnes has ever been apart of, so even though she’s learning a lot about her sister, she’s also starting to learn some things about herself.
I love all the foes they encounter along the way, from two wild succubus (real life cheerleaders in disguise, perhaps?) to a 5-headed dragon and more. Mike Lubke’s fight choreography is daring, exciting, and well-executed. There are many fights throughout the show, and you’ll enjoy a wide range of weapons, from swords to knives to bones. And they’ve slipped in a few tricks here and there to make it extra special. 6E utilizes their space really well in regards to the fight scenes. There are doors on either side of the stage which allow characters to enjoy an array of entrances and exits and keeps things interesting.
Stand outs to me include Boo Segersin who plays a few different characters. Her delivery of each role, as well as her comedic timing, is on point throughout the show, and 6E is fortunate to have a show where they can take advantage of her versatility. Then there’s Collan Simmons who plays Steve. Good old Steve. While it’s a small role imparting (additional) comedic relief, Steve is just one of those naturally lovable guys, and you’ll find yourself laughing as he comes onstage before you even know what’s going to happen to him next.
At first, Chuck seems a little ho-hum, but he really grows on your as the story progresses. He’s confident in his D&D abilities but it’s so fun when he breaks into goofy high school boy mode. While the story is a serious one, Nguyen adds so much humor that there’s a nice balance.
As Agnes assimilates more and more into Tilly’s world, she starts making connections between the fictional characters and Tilly’s friends whom she starts to meet in real life (kind of like when you realize who the Scarecrow, Lion, etc. are in The Wizard of Oz). I liked seeing how they compared between Tilly’s story and who they are in real life, especially because not everyone is what you’d expect. Writing stories and playing D&D was Tilly’s outlet, and she used the story almost as a journal of sorts.
The story will tug at your heartstrings and I may have found a few particles of dust in my eye a time or two. I was a band geek in high school, so I can relate to Tilly’s desire to find a place where she fits in. Isn’t that something everyone wants, after all? She Kills Monsters tackles a few emotional topics, including homosexuality, relationships in general, and the loss of a family member. So settle in and enjoy this fantasy tale that maybe isn’t quite so made up after all.
Photo credit: Tess Kean & Philip D. Henry
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