Too often, the narrative in stories about geek culture focuses on dudes. It fits with the stereotype of what a geek is — some guy in his teens or twenties, covered in residual dust from the powdery snack du jour, slurping down some unnaturally-colored, nauseatingly sweet, caffeinated beverage, while obsessing over a reality far removed from our own, be it a world where superheroes save the day, where clans clash for power in a deadly political system or where daring protagonists go on quests to defeat dragons, loot treasure and get the girl.
That last storyline preoccupies the heroine of She Kills Monsters. 25 year old Agnes (Sarah Verespej), a “normal” girl by all accounts, looks for closure following the death of sister and parents. While packing up her sister’s belongings, Agnes stumbles across a homemade Dungeons & Dragons quest, written by 15 year old Tilly (Emily Boehlke). Determined to get to know her sister after her death, Agnes embarks into the world of game, dripping with sarcasm and disdain for geek culture.
Once she starts, Tilly comes to life as Tillius the Paladin, and Agnes is able to role-play conversations with her sister, lessening the estrangement between the two. As the play (and quest) progress, so do Agnes’ attitudes towards geeks and geek culture — an idea that’s conveniently framed by Agnes’ life outside the game, where she works as a teacher at the school Tilly attended, meeting the real-life versions of the characters Tilly transported to her fantasy land in the game. As the play progresses, we see the relationship between Agnes and her boyfriend Miles, the bullying of gay teens, and the benefits of acting out your fantasies in a controlled environment. Agnes is now coming to understand a lot about her sister, and the way a lonely, geeky lesbian teenager who never felt she fit in at school was able to find strength, conquer her fears and come to terms with her sexuality in a world of supernatural enemies, magical allies and dangerous tasks. Agnes is able to speak with Tilly, to travel and fight beside her. But though she’s in her lost sister’s mind and privy to her deepest longings, she is constantly reminded that the Tilly she’s interacting with isn’t flesh and blood, but a Paladin, an avatar Tilly once created. Here, the script touches a deeper chord, though the overall tone stays light.
Playwright Qui Nguyen has created a compelling world that’s easily accessible for n00bs (a.k.a. those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of structured role playing games). The story is compact, but skips quickly over characterization, forcing the actors to fully flesh out their characters without much help from the script. All of the performers are lively and appealing, and every one of them shows a great deal of stamina and endurance, clambering over obstacles, leaping from place to place, chasing, fleeing and fighting. Much of the time, Agnes plays straight man to the craziness around her, but Sarah Verespej makes the character lithe, gentle and grounded, and when she springs into action, she’s powerful. Emily Boehlke is an impish little sister Tilly. Derrick Karas is funny, goofy and disconcertingly graceful as an incompetent demon prince, Orcus, and Matthias Wong makes his mark as hapless and eventually armless gamer Steve.
Lauren Burghardt and Riley Truttmann are powerful as Tilly’s warrior friends in the game, Lilith and Kaliope, and each has a scene or two as Tilly’s real life friends Lily and Kelly that are equally strong and moving. Burghardt is quite effective as the fierce, leather clad dominatrix Lilith and a knock-out as the gentle, sexually unsure of herself Lily. Truttmann is as moving as the sleek Elfin Kaliope and wheelchair-bound Kelly. Shawn Wilkerson gets just about everything right in bringing teenager Chuck to life. He’s got the appropriate demeanor and mannerisms of a typical “geek” who at first gets flustered when meeting the older woman Agnes.
Andrew Lococo is appropriately immature yet sincere as Agnes’ boyfriend Miles, who isn’t quite ready to commit after dating Agnes for five years. As Agnes’ no nonsense, high-school guidance counselor friend Vera, Emma Zander has a perfect droll delivery. Lauren Brill, Haley Stevens, Cassidy Buffoni and George Ballesteros are hilarious as the “valley girl” speaking, gum chewing, evil cheerleaders. Nick Gardison has the fun dry delivery as the Narrator of the piece and Jada Davis wins us over as the not-so-cute forest fairy Ferrah.
She Kills Monsters is a much-needed exploration of girl geek culture, and under Amelia Figg-Franzoi’s direction, the comedic scenes play quite well. The result is a flowing, fast-moving, high-spirited evening of pure fun, with a few insightful and touching moments thrown in.
Tech Director, Wayne Peters had his work cut out for him with this show, but his crew pulled off magic. Erin Meskimen designed beautiful projections that take us in and out of the D&D world, school and home. The stage crew students designed the set, a 90’s kitchen and living room that the actors run around on as the D&D world appears around Chuck sitting at the kitchen table telling the story of the game. Christian Loukopoulos headed up the building of the set while Aeriana Monohan designed the props with assistant director, Lonnae Hickman’s help. Nicole Platz takes us through the 90’s with popular music, telling the story through sound as TJ O’Connor works magic on the lights.
The evening is a silly, hyperkinetic good time, and a primer on what it means to tell your own fantastical story — because don’t we all have a few dragons to slay?
She Kills Monsters has one public performance before heading off to their State Competition at UW-Whitewater.
November 14th @7pm
Homestead High School James Barr Auditorium
Due to the nature of Tilly’s sexuality and relationship with her girlfriend, this play may not be suited for all audiences.