"She Kills Monsters"
This is one of those plays that hits all the right notes for a guy like me. I love D&D, I love geek culture, and I absolutely loved reading this play a few years back- so when 2X4 Bash (an offshoot from Hartnell College's "Western Stage" theater) announced this play in their summer line-up I became super excited! I'd previously written my thoughts on the material, so I'm kind of going to cheat here and do a little cut and paste for the summary of the play- but I'll get more in depth on the performances and direction.
Tilly is a socially awkward teenage girl who, along with her parents, recently died in a car accident. This leave her schoolteacher sister, Agnes, alone to griev for her losses. While cleaning out her sisters room, the woman comes across a “Dungeons and Dragons” module written by her sister, an adventure written specifically for a very small group of beginners in a world created by Tilly. Agnes recruits help from a local teen gamer (Chuck, played to the hilt by Nico Abiera) to explore her sisters’ story in an attempt to connect with the geeky teen she barely knew. She gets more than she bargained for as she fights with wise-cracking slacker demons, evil cheerleader succubi, doppelgangers, and a five headed dragon in her quest to free her sisters soul.
Let me get to the good stuff: Emerson Flynn tackles the role of Tilly and grinds out a stellar performance with emotional depth, comic timing, and full on energy that simply fucking blew me away! She brought me to tears, she cut to the core, and she got me to laugh like a hyena throughout the show. Fucking awesome damn job! Actress Kristina Bruno is equally devastating as Agnes, acting as both audience surrogate to the adventures and as a character coming to terms with the loss of family. They are both joined in their mutual quest by Kaliope (Natalie Van Heukelem, pulling double duty but equally as enchanting as the story's Narrator), t he dangerously demonic Lilly (played balls to the wall by Niki Moon, who delivers a shocking twist to her performance that literally started the waterworks from my leaking eyes), and the above-mentioned slacker demon Orcus (Anthony Barrera, whose comic timing and ability to work the audience is the definition of "nailed it").
Director Mark Englehorn makes good use of the space available and knows the material. I had a chance to catch a previous play he helmed, "Of Dice and Men", that dealt with similar geekology and gaming culture and was equally impressed at the time. As the play takes place in the nineties, he utilizes music from the time to build the appropriate mood between set changes.
The play is easily accessible for those who don’t understand Dungeons & Dragons, utilizing the game itself as a mechanic to tell the story on the stage. There is plenty of stage combat, visual gags, and references to the geek culture that Agnes struggles to understand. Not all of her obstacles come in the game, either… her snobbish best friend (Vera, played by Sam Betancourt) doesn’t entirely approve of her new hobby, her long-term boyfriend (Miles, played by Adan Miguel) is confused by the situation (with some very hilarious results), and she starts to come face to face with the real life inspirations to Tilly’s private world. There are definitely a few shocks in store for Agnes, some emotional upheaval, and the whole story comes to an end in an exciting and tearful climax.
Also, worthy of noting, use the bathroom before the show. The play moves quickly, but there was no intermission and my teeth were swimming by the time the show let out.
4.5 out of 5 and a definite MUST SEE for geeks and theater patrons alike.