She Kills Monsters
Qui Nguyen's new play is packed with action, wit, and a sizable nerd-quotient, making it a delight from start to finish.
Aside from a tongue-in-cheek prologue by a hooded narrator (hilariously performed by Nicky Schmidlein), the play is set in Ohio in 1995, as 25-year-old Agnes (Satomi Blair) makes an attempt to get to know her recently deceased teenage sister, Tilly (Allison Buck), by playing out a Dungeons & Dragons module that Tilly created.
Enlisting the aid of Dungeon Master Chuck (Jack Corcoran), she enters Tilly's world of New Landia, fighting alongside the demon queen Lilith (Margaret Odette), dark elf Kalliope (Megha Nabe), demon overlord Orcus (Raul Sigmund Julia), and Tilly herself as they embark upon a dangerous quest.
The play shifts back and forth from Agnes' everyday existence, and the D & D role-play, which is performed as a live-action adventure. Agnes finds out some surprising facts about her sister, and encounters the real-life analogues of the various fantasy figures Tilly created. As the piece progresses, it also addresses the precarious relationship between Agnes and her boyfriend Miles (Bruce A. Lemon), the bullying of gay teens, and the benefits of acting out your fantasies in a controlled environment.Blair projects a sad determination mixed with a growing sense of enjoyment, as Agnes gets further into the role-play. Buck's Tilly displays the proper amount of bravado and angst, depending upon the situation. As Orcus, Julia has a laidback swagger that amuses. Nabe brings a comically sexy vibe to Kalliope, while Odette garners plenty of laughs in her role as a flesh-eating demon, carrying off the carcasses of her defeated opponents.
Edgar Eguia gets maximum mileage out of his brief appearances as Steve, a D & D mage who haplessly wanders into Tilly's scenario. Brett Ashley Robinson has both warmth and attitude as Agnes' friend Vera, a high school counselor who doesn't seem all that good at her job.
Robert Ross Parker has directed She Kills Monsters with humor and imagination, and is ably supported by a crackerjack design team. Costume designer Jessica Pabst creates outfits that pay homage to various sword and sorcery programs, and yet retain a homemade charm. Puppet designer David Valentine does a great job with the dragon Agnes must fight in the D & D scenario, which is made even more impressive by the fog and flashing lights provided by designer Nick Francone.
Fight director Mike Chin choreographs the various battles with a stylish flair that is both energetic and fun. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Nguyen and Parker's previous collaborations as the co-artistic directors of Vampire Cowboys, which has made such fight scenes the hallmark of the company's performances.
But even as the production of She Kills Monsters incorporates crazy humor and low-budget pyrotechnics, it never loses sight of the truly heartwarming story of a woman coming to grips with her grief in an unusual fashion -- one that opens her up to new realms of possibility.