Rorschach Theatre remounts and reimagines ‘She Kills Monsters’ at the Atlas

A conversation with director Randy Baker on the staging and immersive elements of Rorschach's reboot

A much-needed rabbit hole to explore is opening in the DMV. Let us rejoice.

It is the return of She Kills Monsters some five years after making its first appearance, thanks to Rorschach Theatre. Rorschach is remounting the play, but with plenty of reimagined touches. It is to be more than a special Halloween special trick or treat.

 

She Kills Monsters is an original take on life, death and whatever is in between. It is full of fun and play and action and perhaps even some swords. All from the delightfully “geek theatre” mind of playwright Qui Nguyen.

As concocted by Nguyen, She Kills Monsters is a mind-opening meander into the world of fantasy role-playing games in the form of a dramatic comedy. It is the tale of one Agnes Evans, who is dealing with the death of her teenage sister Tilly. Finding her departed sister’s Dungeons & Dragons notes, Agnes steps into the imaginary world (or is it?) that the now-departed Tilly once inhabited. That means homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, ’90s pop culture and who knows what else. (Playwright Qui Nguyen also wrote Living Dead in Denmark, produced by Rorschach in 2009, and Vietgone, produced by Studio Theatre in 2018).

For its 2019 remount of She Kills Monsters, Rorschach is including site-specific elements that will bring audiences into unseen creepy places throughout the Atlas Performing Arts Center as well as take place in the intimacy of Lab II at the Atlas. The 15-minute immersive experience that begins the show will require audiences to move through multiple non-theatrical spaces. (Note: These spaces are ADA accessible and accommodations will be made for those who need to sit, but please contact info@rorschachtheatre.com with any questions).

The new production of She Kills Monsters will be directed by Randy Baker. With my conversation with Baker, I learned that the production is full of cheeky, pop-cultural nostalgia, sure, but it is way more than just a hip trip. It has moments and an ending that are way deeper.

So, let’s get to the interview with Randy Baker, shall we?

Randy Baker. Photo courtesy of Rorschach Theatre.
Randy Baker. Photo courtesy of Rorschach Theatre.

David Siegel: Why did Rorschach decide to re-imagine She Kills Monsters for 2019?

Randy Baker: She Kills Monsters is a hilarious play – but for all its terrifically fun exploration of ’90s nerd culture and pop culture, it is essentially a play about grief and healing. It never overstays its welcome in the introspective moments, but it really is about what one does to overcome loss. Its conclusions are positive and empowering.

This production’s staging is more intimate than our last production (performed in the much larger Sprenger Theatre). It begins with small groups engaging in an immersive journey through a number of locations throughout and settles into Lab II – a space that will allow audiences to feel the wind from the swish of every sword. Its intimacy is thrilling but it also allows for delicate character moments that wouldn’t be possible in a larger space.

It’s a long answer to get to a simple answer – we didn’t want to lose the fun of this piece, but we thought it would be interesting to find a new way to explore its quieter side.

Please tell readers a bit about the site-specific elements at the Atlas.

The experience begins in the elevator and continues into the basement of the Atlas Performing Arts Center. If you’ve never seen the basement, you don’t realize how theatrical it is – exposed stone and brick walls and pipes, rough-hewn floor, dimly lit. It’s beautiful in its roughness.

I don’t want to give away how we are using it in terms of storytelling, but I will say that it is entirely integrated into the story.

In our conversation, you called the 15-minute immersive experience “purposeful” and “not a gimmick.” Please let readers know more.

The play begins in this immersive experience, with the inciting incident and character introductions taking place among the immersive experience. It was important to us, that this not be simply a meditation on the play’s themes but actually be the first part of the play. Internally we’ve been referring to the immersive basement portion of the play as “Act 1.”

If you could invite audiences to She Kills Monsters who are new to Rorschach, or know little about the play, what would you say to them?

She Kills Monsters is a pretty universal experience. It may use Dungeons and Dragons and ’90s pop culture as part of its visual geography but its themes are universal. The characters are recognizable and the humor is deeply accessible. The experience is optimistic and empowering, but these goofy characters sneak up on you and the play offers a great deal of catharsis at the end. The unique staging for this 2019 version allows audiences to experience that story in a new way and I can’t wait for them to see it.

Let me end this column this way. I felt Randy crook his finger in front of my eyes, and then tug me into the unknown world he and his compatriots have created. Time to go.

She Kills Monsters plays October 24 (official opening) through November 10, 2019, at Lab Theatre II, Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. Pay-what-you-can previews run October 18-20. For tickets, go online.

Note: This production features mild violence, coarse language, and horror/supernatural scenes. Strobe lights are used in the production.

She Kills Monsters cast includes Jordan Brown, Christina Day, Anna DiGiovanni, Danielle Gallo, Darius Johnson, Briana Manente, Mary May, Alanna McNaughton, Lori Pitts, Andrew Quilpa, Daniel Westbrook, and Stephanie Wilson. The Design team includes Helen Hayes Award-winning Debra Kim Sivigny (Set) and Kylos Brannon (Video), with Julie Cray Leong (Costumes), Brian S. Allard (lights), and Kenny Neal (Sound). Casey Kaleba returns to choreograph the action-packed fights, assisted by company member Megan Reichelt.

LISTEN to Sound Designer Kenny Neal’s She Kills Monsters Spotify playlist

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