In a show full of action, adventure, and monster fighting, She Kills Monsters pulled at my heartstrings with an endearing story of two sisters.
Written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Stelle Salsbery for their senior capstone project, the production featured the story of an “average girl,” Agnes (played by Kirsten Orrahood), who lost her entire family in a car accident after wishing her life wasn’t so boring. After the incident, Agnes eventually comes across her only sister Tilly’s (Jayla Brown) old notebook with a “home-spun module” of Dungeons and Dragons in it. To help her cope and understand her sister, Agnes plays the game. There were two parallel universes in the show (the game world and the real one) but because of stylistic choices in costume changes and set design, it was easy to decipher between the mystical game world and real life. For example, Lilith, (Olivia Yokas) dynamically changed back and forth between her made up character self and her real version. As Agnes plays the game, she recognizes in her life the similarities between the made up game world and the real one. She notices many of the villains Tilly created were more real in her life, along with her mystical side kicks being actual people she was friends with.
The opening set depicted a forest, with a wooden tree-shaped ensemble and moveable wooden platforms. Production staff used dramatic and colorful lighting to express the atmosphere and emphasize character focus from scene to scene. It was quick and easy for stagehands to swoop in and transform the stage into a distinguishable place the audience could recognize. The setting fit well into the overall mystical and dramatic atmosphere of the show. They truly utilized the Black Box theater by harnessing the closeness of the audience – at one point, “monsters” appeared and snarled at the crowd directly.
Costumes (designed by Madison Kalvert) were effective and fun; characters were fittingly dressed. Agnes, who was emphasized to be average, was dubbed “Agnes the Asshated” by her party members due to her reluctance to take the game seriously and “basicness.” Because of this, she was dressed in the same simple t-shirt and jeans the entire show.
The acting was emotional and animated, making the characters truly shine. The storyline and dialogue were bold with flamboyant language, occasional cursing, and frequent humor. The acting of the performers did this aspect justice as they made the characters pop.
All I initially knew about the story was the element of Dungeons and Dragons (which I knew nothing about) and that it included mythical themes. The director, Stelle Salsbury, described the production in the playbill as both “grounded in the reality of Athens, Ohio in 1995,” and the “pseudo-realism” of D&D. Knowing this, I was slightly skeptical due to my worry that I would not be able to follow along adequately, but this proved not to be an issue. The show ended up surprising me as it turned out being about much more than the loud humor and fun fight scenes between the protagonists and mythical monsters. It covered intense topics of loss, acceptance of sexuality, relationship problems, and the strained relationship of two sisters. These diverse themes were revealed strategically throughout the show making it feel increasingly interesting and important as it went on.
Sexuality turned out to be a huge theme within the play. In Tilly’s D&D world, every character in is gay, which plays into the ultimate make-believe escapism aspect of the world and also may point at Tilly’s age and interpersonal challenges with the acceptance of those around her. Agnes learned of Tilly’s sexuality while playing the game and became aware of her real life crush with a girl named Elizabeth, who was meant to be her love interest Lilith in the made up world. Characters in the game bled into reality by showing the actual people Tilly knew whom she based her creations off of.
She Kills Monsters was a thrilling and emotional way to spend my Sunday afternoon and it definitely encourages me to go see other theater productions in the future.
Photograph by Charles Convis.