Updated: Mar 10, 2019
- By Sarah Kiser, Editor-in-Chief -
Think M. C. Escher’s “Relativity” or the endless staircases set of the 1986 film The Labyrinth, and that is almost the set of Meredith College Theatre’s production of She Kills Monsters, an adventure-comedy stage play by Qui Nguyen.
The play focuses on the relationship of two sisters, Agnes and Tilly, who were not very close. Seperated in age as well as interests, Agnes, the older of the two, wishes at her college graduation that her life were less boring. Suddenly, her family passes away in a car crash. Two years later, Tilly would have been a senior in high school, and Agnes is packing up her family’s house. She finds Tilly’s notebook, containing plans for a “module” or plot of gameplay in the popular role playing game Dungeons and Dragons. With the help of one of Tilly’s friends, Chuck, a dungeon master, Agnes becomes a player in the world her sister created.
Allie Sullivan, ‘19, plays Agnes. Sullivan explained that “through playing it Agnes gets to know her sister more because her sister is still a character in the game.” In fact, she promises “lots of twists and turns, and lots to learn about Tilly.”
Tilly, played by Leslie Castro ‘19, was about 15 or 16 years old at her passing and is still that age when she appears in the game. Set in the long long long ago of 1995, the play mostly takes place in Newlandia, while occasionally shifting to the magical land of Ohio. Sullivan said, “Most of the play takes place in the world of the game. There are a few scenes that take place in the ‘real world,’ with air quotes around that because the lines are very blurred.”
Agnes and Tilly are very different. Agnes is “average, normal, and likes clothes, boys, T.V. shows,” Sullivan said. Tilly, on the other hand, “was into D&D, and things a little more nerdy.”
Sullivan related Agnes and Tilly’s relationship to her own with her younger sister. Sullivan and her sister also have a “large age difference,” so she said, “it’s been really strange leaving my house, coming to college, and not understanding how my sister was changing and growing as a person because she is into things that I’m not typically into like video games and anime. She’s a lot more introverted than I am, so I haven’t always understood her in the best way. I guess that’s what scary about Agnes as a character. She’s so close to what I could be: that dismissive big sister that doesn’t even try to get to know her younger sister until it’s too late. That’s really freaky, I’ll tell ya.”
She Kills Monsters is definitely a fantasy styled show, but with a twist. Emileigh Eiden, ‘19, head of wardrobe and head dresser, described the style of the costumes “as if a high elf walked out of a Sears catalogue in 1995.”
Tilly and her party battle three big bosses of Newlandia to slay the Tiamat that has stolen Tilly’s soul. The Tiamat is a fearsome, five-headed dragon on which each head represents a chromatic dragon. One for each element—lightning, earth, air, fire, water. Each of the five lead roles also represents one of the elements. “We had to keep that in mind” when designing costumes, Eiden said; “Orkus, for example, is wind, then we have the cape that [Sarah McCabe] is working on for Steve, who is water.”
Just as lines between realms are blurred, so are distinctions between costume and technical aspects. Eiden explained, “We had to dance the fine line between what is puppet and what is costume and what is set.”
The creatures they have created are “out of this world-looking” according to Sullivan. There are bug bears, a giant eye, litches. She showed off the intricately painted dragons saying “it’s all quite fantastical.” A surprising fairy who’s “a handful,” played by Christiana Grube, ‘22, appears, as do characters in the game world who are based off of characters in Tilly’s life such as Agnes’ boyfriend, Miles and her best friend, Vera. Avoiding all spoilers, let’s just say these characters might appear in unexpected ways.
She Kills Monsters is intense all around, according to Sullivan: “We’ve had to build puppets, very large, life-size puppets that people can interact with and fight.” Actors like Laura Austin, ‘21, who plays the narrator, double as puppeteers. Additionally, there are a lot of sound cues; a lot of great music from the 90’s which everyone will really love. The lights will be really exciting. We haven’t seen them yet. They’re doing them now.”
“Oh,” Sullivan said with excitement, “and there’s also a lot of stage combat! We’ve never done stage combat here really. And so it’s been a huge change for a lot of us, especially me.”
Tara Williams, certified in stage combat choreography, taught the cast to wield broadswords, German long swords and knives.
Agnes, as a starter character, wields a German long sword that Sullivan demonstrated. Tilly, a renowned D&D player is master of a most fantastic blade that she earned through her many quests. Her magic, however, is stronger. “It has a lot more to do with her heart,” while her sword is better for swinging and messing up enemies. Tilly’s kind of a “badass leader,” said Sullivan.
In total, there are five members of Tilly’s party. Tilly’s friends are Calliope Darkwalker and Lillith Morningstar. “She is joined unexpectedly by Orkus, the Overlord of the Underworld. And there’s Agnes,” Sullivan explained.
Tina Porch, ‘21, who plays Lilith, described her character as “kick-ass.” Lilith has a “strong front of confidence and arrogance,” but her real world counterpart, Lily, is disparate from the ax-wielding hero who more often appears on stage. As for Orkus, “he’s in there.” Come see the show, Sullivan suggests, to know why he’s there. Tilly’s friends appear in the real world, but “you’ll be surprised at who they are,” she hinted. “It’s shocking, some ways good, some ways sad.” The plot is “emotionally tumultuous,” Sullivan continued. It’s still a comedy though. “There are some really great jokes that Qui Nguyen has written.” His writing style, Sullivan said, “is so much of a mixture. He’ll get you with a one-liner and the next scene will be a completely raw emotional pit of sadness, and you don’t know really how to react.”
Discussion amongst the cast as they sew horns to wigs and fabric to hats illuminates what She Kills Monsters can mean to people. Laura Austin said “it’s definitely a show for anyone who feels different.” According to multiple people working in the costume shop at the time, She Kills Monsters “is gay.” Eiden said that She Kills Monsters “establishes how for queer youth in the 90s, being able to play Dungeons and Dragons” was a place “where you could be powerful in a time where you weren’t heard or you could embrace you sexuality in a place where nothing was real but everything was real to you.” Porch added that if audience members “have ever loved anything outside of the cultural norm, they will definitely love this show.”
Performances are Nov. 7-10 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 10-11 at 2 p.m. in studio theatre of Jones Hall. Reservations and donations are encouraged. Contact 919-760-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org for reservations.