Through uncommon uses of environment and intimate passionate performances, Rorschach Theatre seeks to lure its audiences beyond the limits of ordinary theatrical experience. They go above and beyond this mission with their astounding production of Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters.
She Kills Monsters centers on the journey of 25-year-old English teacher Agnes Evans (Christina Day) who has tragically lost her parents and younger sister Tilly (Alanna McNaughton) in a car accident. As she is cleaning out Tilly’s room, Agnes comes across Tilly’s Dungeons & Dragons notebook, and with the help of Tilly’s friend and fellow gamer Chuck Biggs (Andrew Quilpa), enters an imaginary world full of adventure, hilarity, cheerleader succubi, football-playing ogres, and addictive 90’s hits. It is in this magical world that Agnes really gets to know her sister for the first time, and all audience members get a glimpse into the beautiful minds of role-playing gamers.
Your experience begins the moment you set foot in the building, as two eager “students” hand you your class schedule. While you wait for class to begin, you can enjoy a Dungeons & Dragons 101 video in the lobby (though pre-existing knowledge of D&D is not remotely required to enjoy this show). Once your group is called, you are whisked not into the theatre, but up a flight of stairs where you are immediately greeted by a magical creature. You then experience a ten-minute immersive experience as you navigate the back hallways-turned-high-school of the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Eventually, you are dropped into the main theater, where the length of your wait will depend on which group you were in. Luckily, there’s earworm-worthy music and a video montage of everything you loved about the 90’s to entertain you.
This is a truly brilliant element of this production — while it’s not a completely immersive experience, director Randy Baker and assistant director Tori Boutin masterfully utilize just enough immersive tactics to completely transport you to their world. This is artfully complemented by the entire technical team.
Kylos Brannon’s video design and use of projections is the perfect tool to turn a barebones space into over a dozen real-world and magical settings. More designers need to follow the lead of set designer Debra Kim Sivigny, who sagely understands that less can be so much more. Every set element played a diverse and necessary role –nothing was there just for looks. Directors Baker and Boutin seized on this to keep the action going non-stop despite near-constant costume/character/setting changes.
Kenny Neal’s sound design was expertly mixed and executed, along with Brian S. Allard’s dramatic, poignant lighting design. Kudos to Julie Cray Leong for creative costume design, though there was some room for more consistent choices as to whether each character was going to be realistic, whimsical, or a mix of the two. Properties design by Abigail Stuckey was period-specific and detail-oriented, and therefore spot-on.
There isn’t a single weak link in this ensemble cast, with every actor bringing their own brand of passion to their often multiple roles. These talented actors prove that even characters steeped in stereotype can be subtle, unique, and interesting. Quilpa as Chuck Biggs was downright masterful in walking the tightrope between super-knowledgeable (yet sometimes-creepy) gamer and loyal, lovable friend. He’s the perfect gatekeeper to a nerd culture that our society suddenly wants to embrace yet fails to fully comprehend.
Day’s Agnes and McNaughton’s Tilly were competent and engaging anchors throughout the show. Watching these estranged sisters journey toward understanding was funny, heart-warming, and heroic. The entire D&D party (Anna DiGiovanni as Lilith, Stephanie Wilson as Kaliope, and Darius Johnson as Orcus) were a constant delight, each carving out their own meaningful, charming personalities.
In a crowded field of accomplished performances and technical execution, special honors must be given to fight choreographer Casey Kaleba. This show has about as much fighting as it does normal blocking, not to mention that the action takes place with multiple weapons mere inches from the audience. Kaleba wasn’t deterred for a second. Every fight was varied, complex, and balanced. This was an epic undertaking, expertly executed.
The entire team at Rorschach has created something truly special and unique with their production of She Kills Monsters. I guarantee that you will not see anything else like it this year, perhaps ever. This group has pulled out all the stops to present a heart-pounding, hilarious, emotional ride celebrating the warrior (and the nerd) within us all. Do not miss this experience.
She Kills Monsters plays through November 10, 2019 at Rorschach Theatre performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.