Witty banter, slow-motion sword fighting and heaps of special effects make the Salida High School Drama Team’s production of Qui Nguyens’ She Kills Monsters one to remember. While it would definitely be a benefit to have some prior knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons to get every joke and pun, the emotions are global.
The play opens with the narrator, Hunter Redman, in a dark cloak, reminiscent of the Grim Reaper. He says, “In a time before Facebook … there was some mighty geekery.” Referring to the popular role-playing board game, Dungeons and Dragons. He first introduces us to Tilly, played by Athena Kintgen. Dressed in armor, Tilly skillfully fights and defeats multiple villains. There seems to be title significance already, but the audience quickly learns the story is not about her.
The focus of the play is on Tillys’ older sister, Agnes, which becomes obvious once the narrator explains that Tilly and her parents were killed in a car crash. Greta Hooston plays the conservative, modest, verging on dull Agnes. Hooston, a senior, is extremely comfortable on stage, and her character goes through the biggest transformation. While cleaning out Tilly’s room, Agnes discovers a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Duneon Master’s Guide. Wanting to learn more about her deceased – seemingly opposite – younger sister, Agnes attempts to play this fantasy game.
First, she must meet the characters Tilly fights alongside. Jazzy Sanchez plays Lillith, the she-devil lacking a “full costume” according to Agnes. Nova Thompson plays Kaliope, a dark (and a touch dim) elf.
Battles ensue with monsters, demons (wearing Buena Vista Demons cheerleading uniforms) and a faerie. Gianna Giorno plays the far from innocent Farrah the Faerie. Giorno has a commanding, confident presence on stage.
As the “former lord of the underlord” Orcus, Ryan O’Connor, has many crowd-pleasing one-liners.
Chuck, played by Sawyer Cliff, is the Dungeon Master, whose presence, or voice-over, reminds the audience when the game is in play. Chuck also has an entertaining meet with Agnes’ boyfriend, Miles, played by Dylan Benolt. Miles believes Agnes is cheating with Chuck – a “D&D” miscommunication.
Lillian Wood plays sarcastic, inappropriate guidance counselor, Vera, with pointed skill. Vera works at the high school with Agnes. Wood knows her lines and delivers each with a sassy punch. The short-tempered counselor provides some comic relief to the battleground of D&D.
Agnes struggles to understand why her sister spent so much time in a fantasy role-playing game. At one point Tilly’s character explains that Dungeons and Dragons is about “wish fulfillments.” The thought of living out another, better reality, is appealing.
All of the actors prove their ability to stage-fight; staying cognizant of the audience, their bodies and their surroundings – not an easy feat. The most impressive are the slow-motion fight scenes with strobe lights. The actors know their places and moves, it the scenes are well choreographed. Director Devon Kasper said this was the most technically involved play they’ve ever done, and the drama team received a lot of help from volunteers. Rick Thompson assisted with the fighter choreography as well as Jerry Canon, the technical director. Andrea Mossman helped with the dance choreography.
The play deals with many hot-button topics like sexuality, homophobia, gender, bullying, relationships and other stereotypically “high school” issues. While all these issues are pertinent, relevant and important, some of the themes felt forced, and some of the lewd language seemed unnecessary.
The first act was hard to follow (at least for this D&D illiterate), but the show found a solid, flowing rhythm in the second half. The plot made more sense, the language calmed down, and the emotions built.
She Kills Monsters is set in Athens, Ohio in 1995. The soundtrack will delight all the ’90s kids. TLC, Smashmouth, Madonna, Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson, just to name a few, accompany scene changes and fight scenes.
Kasper said the students were “proactive,” painting the set and the dragon heads. Including cast and crew, there are 22 students involved.
The program advises “mature content,” as well as fog machine and strobe lights. So beware, mature content it surely is. But it is also fantastically acted, with impressive special effects, jokes and emotion. Go see it, but leave your young kids at home.
The play runs Friday through Sunday. Check our calendar for times.