Silver Spring Stage’s production of She Kills Monsters pays fun tribute to Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying and geekdom before it became cool, while also exploring deep issues. Qui Nguyen’s 2011 play finds teacher Agnes getting deeper into a game scenario created by her dead teenage sister, Tilly, learning more about the girl she never really knew. Directed by Julia Rabson Harris, it is a wonderful way to finish this season.
Emma Wesslund gives Agnes a quiet power, at first scoffing at the game’s conventions, especially the revealing clothing, but she soon gets into it, devising strategy to help win battles and facing off against formidable opponents on her own. She is shocked by some of the secrets she learns about Tilly through the game, but soon becomes emotionally involved, having to temporarily quit when a member of the party is killed. Ben Eggleston gives a confidence to Chuck, Tilly’s friend who serves as dungeon master to the game, guiding Agnes and explaining the rules. Will MacLeod plays Agnes’s boyfriend Miles with great befuddlement at Agnes’s obsession. In the game, a version of Miles becomes a monster Agnes must fight; watching Wesslund and MacLeod battle each other is emotionally riveting. Mallory Shear plays Agnes’s friend and fellow teacher Vera with a quiet strength, offering advice to the confused Agnes.
Kitt Krull plays Tilly with youthful energy and freedom, having created a world in the game where she can be her true, authentic self and create a community of people like her in the party. Erica Dilworth gives Kaliope a strength and extreme seriousness, as well as a comic moment when she propositions Agnes. As her “real life” model Kelly, Dilworth is strong in a different way. Maya Rizkala gives a sensuality to Lilith, who has a special attachment to Tilly. She plays Lilith’s model Lily with great vulnerability, revealing a long-kept secret to Agnes. Noah Haren gives a slacker attitude to Orcus, lord of the underworld, who would rather watch Quantum Leap than go on adventures. As Ronnie, he is similarly relaxed.
Christian Perziosi gives great comic timing to Steve, who keeps randomly appearing in the game and dying in various ways. Gabrielle Minor is a hoot as Farrah, a fairy who takes out the entire party. She and Sarah Luckadoo play monsters dressed as cheerleaders with perfect “mean girl” cutting insults that leave Tilly running away in tears. Luckadoo also plays the Narrator with great dramatic tones, providing the backstory at the beginning.
Set Designer Leigh K. Rawls and Properties Designer McKenna G. Kelly have constructed a set that transitions easily between the real world and the world of the game. A desk and chair serve as Agnes’s office at the school, while a projection of a hallway with lockers enhances the illusion. In the game, projections of the characters’ stats appear on a screen, as well as a map of the world. Costume Designer Stephanie Yee has created outfits that help distinguish each character, with black leather for Lilith, an armorlike costume for Tilly, and horns for Orcus. The design for the “big bad” that the party faces at the end is cleverly done.
Lighting Designer Stephen Deming shifts the light to blue to signal transitions to the game world, helping to create a feeling of mystery. Lighting also creates shadow puppets at the beginning. Sound Designer Megan Hastie enhances this sense of unreality with exciting, fantasy-style music composed by Brandon Jackson.
Fight and Intimacy Director Sierra Young gives the battles a stylized feel while remaining exciting and uncertain, with one battle even done in slow motion. The love scenes are handled well, short but meaningful. Choreographer KT Aylesworth gives the actors many great movements, some even doing cartwheels. Julia Rabson Harris does a wonderful job as director, the actors seamlessly navigating the set and each other and easily making the transitions from one world to the next. After a year of so many Zoom productions where actors perform in different locations, it is a joy to see them all onstage together at the same time. She Kills Monsters is theater that combines comedy with deep emotion, a pleasure to watch no matter your knowledge of or experience with role-playing games.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.