I was pretty stoked to get to see She Kills Monsters at Pitt last week, not because I’m into Dungeons & Dragons (never played it myself), but because I’m a huge geek and was excited at the prospect of bringing gaming and theater together. I figured it could either be very entertaining or pretty awful. I’m happy to report that Pitt went the route of very entertaining. For the most part, the play was humorous and moving, and there was a five-headed dragon on stage, so that’s basically as cool as it gets, right?
I brought someone with me who plays D&D, just in case I got lost somewhere, but the writing keeps it very easy to understand throughout the whole show. It helps that the main character is someone who is utterly unfamiliar with the entire world of gaming and geekery, so the audience is learning with her as she goes. Agnes Evans (Peri Walker) is an ordinary woman whose family dies tragically. While her younger sister Tilly (Ariana Starkman) was alive, she never entirely connected with her sibling. So after her death, Agnes tries to learn more about Tilly through a D&D story that she created. To do this, she seeks out the assistance of Chuck (Dennis Sen), a teenage gamer geek who shows Agnes how to play and in doing so helps her discover her late sister’s story. For me, Sen did the best work in the show. Although he was a supporting character, every line was hilarious, and every scene was memorable.
Walker plays the central character well- she’s supposed to be a very average person- but I wish we’d have seen some emotional development in her throughout the story. Her character learns so much about her sister’s life, and by the end of the show, she feels a bond with her that has never been there before. Sensing that connection from Walker was hard. Agnes plays through her sister’s game, and in doing so meets and works with friends she didn’t know her sister had. And in playing the game, she finds it hard to remember that Tilly is gone and the person she’s interacting with is just words in a notebook.
Starkman’s performance as Tilly was delightful. Her entire party of mythical creatures (each inspired by real people from Tilly’s life) was the highlight of the show. The group fights fairies and monsters on stage in real time, just as you would in a D&D game. Each fight is structured to mimic the slow action of rolling dice and taking turns in combat. Set in the 90s when geekiness was often seen as a negative, this play glorified the gamers, giving them the best lines, the funniest moments, and made you want to be cool like them. A considerable part of that was KJ Gilmer’s excellent costume design. It made it easy to feel immersed in the fantasy world of monsters and demons and fairies. Lea Marie Bosilovich’s lighting was well executed, too. While usually good lighting is something you don’t notice, in the world of D&D, the more dramatic, the better.
She Kills Monsters is an emotional journey that doesn’t feel overwhelming or eye-rollingly sentimental. It tells a story of families- the ones we are born with and the ones we create. But above all, it strives to make the audience laugh while it transports them briefly to another world. Directors Kelly Trumbull and Ricardo Vila-Roger should be proud of what they’ve done with the show, and equally proud of their cast for bringing it to life. For a fun evening of comedy, role play, and awesome 90s music, She Kills Monsters is a critical hit.
She Kills Monsters, written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Kelly Trumbull and Ricardo Vila-Roger runs now through October 14th at The Charity Randall Theatre on Pitts campus. For tickets and more information click here.
Photos courtesy of Samantha Saunders Studio
Ringa is a native Pittsburgher who has a Creative Writing degree from Carlow University. She’s been published multiple times online and in print, and has had several of her theatrical works produced locally. In the theatre world, she’s worked with many Pittsburgh companies in every position from director to actor to sound designer, but her favorite role is stage manager. When she’s not writing or performing, Ringa is the co-owner of a small business making handmade pop culture items and she runs her own baking and cake decorating business out of her home. In her rare free time, Ringa is usually travelling or watching horror movies at home with her cats.
Categories: Archived Reviews