She Kills Monsters
Written by Qui Nguyen
Box Office: 828-659-7529
Foothills Community Theatre
June 8-9 and 14-16, 2019
Review posted June 21, 2019
Last Friday night, I attended a performance of She Kills Monsters by Foothills Community Theatre. In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, She Kills Monsters is a 2-Act play by Qui Nguyen, an award-winning Vietnamese American playwright and fight director. The show is set in 1995 and follows its main character Agnes (played by Jessie Emory) as she deals with the unexpected death of her sister Tilly (played by Morgan Vess) through the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games that Tilly left behind in a notebook.
I must tell you that, while I enjoyed reliving the cultural and musical references from the 1990s, I have never played Dungeons & Dragons. The show was definitely written for a niche audience, so I didn’t “get” all of the jokes. But that being said, I still related to the show’s celebration of geekdom and was impressed by the weaving of fantasy and reality to tell a very poignant story.
Director Ken Davis opted for a bare stage setting, and I think he made the right choice. Role-playing is about using your imagination, and being without a set forced the audience to use their own imaginations to complete the scene. The only scenes that I had trouble visualizing were the ones that took place in the guidance counselor’s office. Without the representation of a desk in front of them, the actors didn’t seem to know how to look busy with an office task, and so seemed to be idly waiting for their “cue”. The awkwardness quickly dissipated, however, as the scene developed and more character interaction pulled the focus away from the setting.
I could definitely tell that Luke Johnson had put a lot of thought into his lighting design. One of the things that is striking about this play is how reality and fantasy are woven together. The fights were definitely in the realm of fantasy, and the combination of slow light changes and highly-stylized slow-mo acting definitely upped the geeky fun factor. I was glad that there were no strobe lights, as they are often overused in this type of scene.
Without a set, the costumes and props had to do extra work in filling out the show. Tali Barlaz, Bonnie Holcombe, and Rachel Wyatt did an excellent job of making the fantasy characters’ costuming outlandish. My favorite costume was that of Kaliope the Dark Elf, though the evil cheerleaders were a close second. I did, however, find myself wishing that Agnes’ costuming evolved with her character: perhaps some small changes as she began to accept the fantasy role-play, then an all-out warrior get-up for the final battle scene. Other notable costumes included Tilly’s knight-inspired outfit, the narrator’s fantasy ensemble, and of course the many costumes of Steve the nerd.
As far as props go, the unequivocal star was the dragon. It was a great choice to have the actors manipulate different parts of the puppet during the final fight scene. And I have to mention the “ass-hat”, Agnes’ Viking hat with, well, let’s just say that it was truth in advertising. It was so incongruous to her flowery costume that it was hilarious, especially in the scene when she is with her boyfriend and still wearing it.
The actors seemed to have a lot of fun with this show. Most of the characters are fantasy figures so there is a lot of opportunity for stylized acting and comedy. This was most effective when the more reality-rooted characters (Vera, Miles, and Agnes) used a more understated style of acting to make the fantasy characters stand out. Molly Heintzelman, Donnie Banks, and Jessie Emory as those reality characters did a great job contrasting the fantasy world, although I do wish I saw more of a transition in Agnes' character as she evolved through the play. Nina Cline as Lily/Lilith stood out as having the best contrast between her fantasy character and her reality character. The fight scene between Miles and Chuck, played by Hayden Robinson, was a comical collision of misunderstanding between fantasy and reality. I laughed when, in the spirit of the 90s, Donnie Banks seemed to be channeling Joey Tribbiani from Friends.
I loved Cailan Calloway’s deadpan take on the Dark Elf. Morgan Vess as Tilly was delightful in her high-energy moments. Corey Wall was hilarious as Orcus, the bumbling Satan-type character obsessed with 90s popular culture. Hayden Robinson as Chuck convincingly portrayed a kind-hearted nerd. Melody Pritchard as Farrah the Faerie was the funniest thing on stage, playing her character as something like a combination of Billy Goat Gruff and an angry Oompa Loompa. And Luke Johnson as Steve stole the show more than once, making his character one of the most memorable of the show.
All in all, I had a wonderful Friday night at Foothills Community Theatre. Although She Kills Monsters has closed, FCT will be announcing their next season soon. Stay tuned. There will be lots of good shows to see!