by Jody Tuso-Key — Managing Editor — August 16, 2020
The show must go on, and Elm Street Cultural Arts Village has managed to do just that even in the midst of this pandemic. While some theaters are postponing their seasons to next year, Elm Street is offering their current season via online streaming. Opening their “Season of Character” with SHE KILLS MONSTERS by playwright Qui Nguyen, an online ticket can be purchased at Elm Street Arts website. Once you purchase your ticket (a great bargain at $20 per household) you’ll be sent an email with a website link and a password. You can view the show as many times as you like from now until August 23rd.
While I wish I could have seen this in person, SHE KILLS MONSTERS director, Zach Stolz, along with Personalized Technology Services and David Thompson Technologies LLC (DDT-Live) put together a very professional digital experience. If you watch it on your laptop or tablet, I suggest you use earbuds as the acoustics make it difficult to hear the dialogue at times. Overall, this was a satisfying experience and it was enjoyable to see a stage performance as our opportunities for that lately have been few and far between.
Set in the 1990s, this is the story of two sisters who are polar opposites. Older sister Agnes (Libby Williams) is into all things average and teaches at her sister’s school. Younger sister Tilly (Emily Haynes) is a 16 year-old geek who seeks adventure in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Tilly dies tragically in an auto accident with her parents. As Agnes packs up Tilly’s things when she moves from her childhood home, she comes across a D&D notebook belonging to Tilly. In an effort to get to know her sister better, Agnes enlists the help of Chuck (LaBorn Brown), one of Tilly’s friends who happens to be a Dungeon Master, to help guide her through Tilly’s campaign. What ensues is a series of scenes that move between reality and the imaginary world of D&D.
During her quest to get to know her sister better, Agnes learns that Tilly struggles with exploration of her sexuality and the bullying that goes along with being gay. At first Agnes is surprised by Tilly’s revelation of her sexuality and feels she doesn’t know her sister at all. As the story unfolds, Agnes gains a deeper understanding and acceptance of Tilly, and is able to find comfort and healing from her loss.
Qui Nguyen is not only a renowned playwright, but also a fight choreographer, and the play includes numerous fight sequences. Director Zach Stolz was the right match for this show as he too, is a fight choreographer, and has done an incredible job blocking the fight scenes making each one action packed, different and unique.
This show is a character study, and doesn’t need an elaborate set. It’s been performed in the past in black box theaters with no set whatsoever. Brian Gamel’s scenic design is simple and functional for both the D&D world and real world settings. The stage consists of a series of platforms with multiple levels and plenty of room on the stage for the combat scenes. The platforms are painted to resemble a stone wall which works well for both real and imaginary settings. A simple table with a chair is moved on and off stage during scenes in the school counselor’s office and Agnes’s classroom. Lighting design by Max Vinelli and Brian Gamel compliment the set and give it life and dynamics appropriate to each scene. Kudos to props designer Harmony Reid and the amazing puppet designs.
Libby Williams portrays a sympathetic lead as Agnes, hesitant and confused by the action going on around her, she is determined to immerse herself and continue the campaign to the end. She is a well-paired contrast to Emily Haynes’s fiesty and fearless Tilly. As Tillius the Paladin, her gaming persona, she is aware of Agnes’s presence in the game and the real-world equivalents of the other characters. Both Williams and Haynes are believable as sisters and share a bond onstage that is palpable.
Tillius’s group of scantily-clad companions is an amalgam of Tilly’s real-life friends and gaming companions. Lilith Morningstar (Ashley Huber), is a demon queen resembling a dominatrix and Tilly’s love interest in the game. Kaliope Darkwater (Chisom Awachie) is a dark elf described as a supermodel and incredibly strong. Orcus (James Cogswell) is a demon of the underwold obsessed with 90s television and holds onto lost souls or knows where to find them.
LaBorn Brown’s enthusiastic portrayal of Chuck as a teenager with many layers is an amusing catalyst for Agnes’s boyfriend, Miles (Jonathan Joseph), who mistakenly thinks there’s something more going on between Chuck and Agnes than the D&D campaign.
Agnes’s real life friend, Vera, played by Molly Penny, is a school guidance counselor who is indifferent to the students’ issues, but helps Agnes work through her feelings as she explores the game. Scenes with Vera also give Agnes an opportunity to meet some of Tilly’s real-life friends upon whom the D&D characters are based.
Other characters round out the cast: Joseph Arrigo as Steve the Mage offers comic relief and continuity as he battles various bosses and dies several times in the process; Evil Tina (Jess Ford) and Evil Gabby (Syndey Warren) play cheerleader succubi in the game, and represent the bullies Tilly encounters in reality; Bradley Campbell portrays several roles in the D&D setting including Bug Bear. Finally, the narrator, portrayed by Olivia Adams, sets the scene and offers narrative throughout the story as needed.
Overall, this was a solid ensemble and an enjoyable story. Even those who aren’t Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts will be able to follow along through Agnes’s eyes. If you’re looking to fill your theater void, Elm Street has you covered. Order your virtual tickets and enjoy the show!