‘She Kills Monsters’ fun 90’s romp


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TheatreUNI went back in time to 1995 Athens, Ohio, for their production of “She Kills Monsters,” written by Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen.

Audiences in Strayer-Wood Theatre were exposed to a plethora of strong female characters and iconic 90’s pop culture references while immersed in the story of high school teacher, Agnes Evans, and her emotional journey to get to know her deceased younger sister, Tilly.

Director Matthew Weedman chose to briefly introduce viewers to Agnes, portrayed by Marjorie Gast, and the rest of her family, alluding to the tragic car accident which took the lives of all of her family members using lights and video projections. This was a very cool directorial choice.

While packing up her sister’s room, Agnes finds a “Dungeons & Dragons” (D&D) notebook containing maps, a plot line and characters. Agnes enlists the help of a high school student, Chuck, to aid in her understanding of the game that Tilly had written. The character of Chuck added significant comic relief to the play through the skillful acting of Luke Van Cleve. Chuck, who is appointed as the Dungeon Master, agrees to lead Agnes down the path of her first D&D campaign in an attempt to get to know Tilly through her character, Tillius.

Throughout the play, the setting changes back and forth between the D&D world of New Landia and the real world. Tillius, Lilith and Kaliope, played by Mikayla Wahl, Rachel Winter and Dani Schmaltz, respectively, are introduced through Chuck’s narration and character sheets projected onto the back wall of the stage telling the audience facts about them, including general “badassery.” The use of these projections was a unique tool that added a new dimension to the play and kept the audience up to speed.

Before the role-playing game commences, a wary and weirded-out Agnes has to create a character. She doesn’t want to pick a new name or be a magical creature, so instead she keeps her human status but is dubbed “Agnes the Asshatted.”

The crew visits a “retired” demon, Orcus, in order to try to get Tillius’ soul back, only to discover that he had bargained her soul for a new TV to watch “Twin Peaks.” Patrick Hale, in a great performance, brought the Easy Cheese-obsessed demon to life. At one point, he even uses the canned cheese to defeat a lower-level enemy.

The crew meets many enemies along the way, and some foes are not as easy to defeat, such as Farrah played by Cecilia Mitchell. Farrah is a cute forest fairy who turns out to be a homicidal maniac. A little comic relief occurs each time the party faces a new enemy because Steve the Mage would appear and usually be killed by the foe to show the ruthlessness of each monster.

Agnes slowly gets to know her sister through the character of Tillius, discovering things that she never knew and that she really didn’t know her sister at all. Through the game, she finds out that Tilly was a lesbian and the bullying she had endured because of it. This discovery, along with being unable to save the character of Lilith, Tillius’ fictional lover, from an untimely death, frustrates Agnes to the point of quitting the game.

Eventually, Chuck introduces Agnes to the rest of Tilly’s D&D friends in real life whose characters she had already gotten to know. Agnes realizes how the game provides an escape for many people, whether they are escaping bullies like Tilly had been or the reality of being disabled like Kelly (Kaliope).

Agnes resumes the game and gets some closure as she helps Tillius kill monsters, big, bad bosses and finally Tiamat, the dragon that has never been defeated before. The way the dragon was portrayed was pretty underwhelming, as it was five individual people with dragon heads on them. I had expected something much bigger and more impressive, especially after seeing the dragon originally portrayed on the screen.

Even without the help of the remaining members of the party, Agnes the Asshatted becomes the first to conquer the dragon while getting to say goodbye to her sister in a totally badass way. However, I was disappointed by the length of the battle. I think it would have been more effective and dramatic had it been even slightly longer.

Overall, “She Kills Monsters” was heartwarming and entertaining. The costumes and props used were impressive and added a lot to the show. The background projections also added to the experience rather than distract from the acting, and helped us understand all of the characters, the map of New Landia and the foes they were facing. The performance made for a fun night out with lots of laughs and an audience that raised the roof with a standing ovation at curtain call.

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