She Kills Monsters
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
November 16, 2011
She Kills Monsters was a blast. What this show does so brilliantly is genuinely enter the adolescent experience. Not to mention there’s an amazing five-headed dragon battle. David Valentine’s puppet design is nothing short of fantastic.
Fifteen year old Tilly, portrayed with groundedness and sincerity by Allison Buck, is immersed in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Along with her parents, Tilly dies in a car crash, leaving Agnes, played by Satomi Blair, her older sister, as the only remaining member of the family. With the help of Dungeon Master Chuck, Agnes dives into a personalized D & D module created by her little sister. Blair really carries the show, and cleanly transitions between the adventuring spirit of the video game world and her life as a teacher. This journey into the video game is an attempt to reconcile their relationship that comes too late, a part of her grieving process, and her own journey to become a fuller person rather than a "stuffed shirt." Although the layer running beneath the show is connected to Agnes’s deep regret over the chasm that existed between her and her sister, we really feel immersed in Tilly’s world as Agnes tries to make up for lost time there. This world may be "virtual," but we cannot deny it provides Agnes the opportunity for personal transformation, breaking down typical attitudes toward the value of video games. In the D & D world Tilly had an identity she could be confident about. She takes people from "real life" and creates a virtual version.
I don’t want to overshadow the playfulness of this show by discussing its thoughtful core. When Nicky Schmidlein hovers downstage with a cloak and staff as the narrator it remains funny in every transition. Edgar Eguia hops onstage as the enthusiastic wizard Steve, only to be consistently devoured by the game's monsters. The creature named after Agnes’s boyfriend is a blob of green jelly.
The production’s ability to effectively turn on a dime from sex jokes and demon slaying to intense regret about not being connected to close family I still find surprising. I credit this to director Robert Ross Parker’s attention.
Eventually it comes out that Tilly was struggling with her identity as a lesbian. This was not thrown in as a subplot, but really felt at the center of the piece as well. Succubus cheerleaders jeer at Tilly and mock her to kiss them. Her school crush and first kiss Lilith, played with impressive contrast between the two worlds by Margaret Odette, is a cannibalistic warrior in the game, but dates a football player in life. In fact, every character in the game in Tilly’s band of friends is gay.
Writer Qui Nguyen is truly smart about this. By fully embracing the humor, values and difficulties of a teenager, he avoids the demeaning irony, or characterization as "childish," that much work representing that age group falls into. This play, just like High School, amidst foul jokes and hormones, has some heartfelt struggles that develop. And Monsters!