WU theater comes roaring back to the Edison with ‘She Kills Monsters’
“She Kills Monsters,” the Performing Arts Department’s first show of the semester, is “that Dungeons & Dragons play.” But geekdom isn’t the only thing it celebrates. The show, which opened Friday night in the Edison, is an exploration of the relationship between two siblings. Agnes (Naomi Blair) learns just how much she didn’t know about her younger sister Tilly (Raevyn Ferguson) through her homebrew D&D game — which she only reads after Tilly’s death.
The show has all the things anyone would expect from a D&D game: monsters, swords, weirdly sexuallized female characters and a quest for something extremely rare. But Tilly’s quest mirrors how she perceived the world outside the campaign. The two succubi (Brenna Jones and Sarah Wilkinson) were exaggerated, overtly homophobic versions of two cheerleaders from Tilly’s class, with whom they share names. One of the bosses is a blob of slime with Agnes’ boyfriend Miles’ name, and another is a “Beholder” who is the high school’s insensitive guidance counselor. Because of that, Agnes can never fully disengage from the campaign, even when she’s at work, and at times treats the campaign like it’s real life.
Part of that is her grief — a desperation to understand her sister after her passing that Blair portrays extremely well. And still, she never quite manages it. But she gets to know her a little better and is able to eventually recover from her loss. Tilly, too, opens up over the course of the campaign, as Ferguson slips between resentment and affection in a way believable to the 16-year-old she is supposed to be.
Other characters, though similarly believable, were less enjoyable to watch. Chuck (Stephen Reaugh) and the brief appearance of Ronnie (Jake Steinberg) typified the stereotype that D&D players are horny high school boys who have never spoken to a woman. It’s played for comedic effect, and sometimes it works, but mostly it got on my nerves. The plot with Miles (Dylan McKenna), too, irked me. Miscommunication in relationships is not a trope I enjoy, and that the miscommunication leads Miles to believe Agnes is cheating on him with a high schooler made me cringe more than laugh.
The set, though, was perpetually a joy. Two projector screens would momentarily descend from the ceiling and portray childish drawings of characters, photographs to set the scene and once, a scene from “Friends.” “She Kills Monsters” has previously been adapted for completely virtual performance, but this worked equally well for a live play. The ’90s setting, too, provided needed laughs to balance out the emotional material. Chuck’s Atari shirt, the transition music and references to the brand-new innovation of the Internet reminded the audience that this story is not a current one — it is one of geeks past.
While it had its missteps, the strength of the acting carried “She Kills Monsters” through its awkward moments and dropped swords mid-swordfight to produce a fun and truly moving production.