James Madison High School
Murderous fairies, shapeshifting monsters, gelatinous cubes, oh my! In Robert E. Lee High’s She Kills Monsters, the performance abandons mundane reality and soars into a world of Dungeons and Dragons – with a twist.
Written by Qui Nguyen, She Kills Monsters premiered off-Broadway in 2011, winning the 2013 Distinguished Play Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education. Set in 1995 Athens, Ohio, the play centers around Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home following the tragic death of her family, including her 15-year-old sister, in a car crash. To understand her late sister’s geeky obsession with Dungeons and Dragons, Agnes reluctantly begins a game that ultimately reconnects her with, and deepens her appreciation of, her sister’s identity.
Adroitly approaching a script that addresses difficult topics such as bullying and sexuality, Robert E. Lee High’s production was driven by skillful transitions between the emotional and the hilarious, well-developed character arcs, and whimsical costumes and set pieces. The ensemble displayed remarkable enthusiasm and energy through recurrent fight scenes.
One of the most frequent and spirited fighters, Tilly Evans (Remy Thompson), Agnes’ sister, presented a compelling dichotomy between swaggering renegade warrior and insecure closeted teenager. In their shared scenes, Tilly (Remy Thompson) and Agnes (Kiana Burch) demonstrated a sweet sisterly chemistry. As Agnes, Burch metamorphosed from a normal woman reluctant to participate in a geeky game, to a bereft and devoted sister desperate to understand Tilly more deeply.
Beyond the deepening of a sisterly relationship, unrequited love in relation to sexuality played a key role in the performance. As Tilly’s love interest Lily, Skyler Estrella shined as a timid high schooler with a powerful, dominatrix alter ego in the game Dungeons and Dragons. She demonstrated exceptional emotional range as she confessed to Agnes her love for Tilly. On the comedic side, Daniel Burgess proved an audience favorite as Orcus, an apathetic soul-stealing demon who would rather eat cheese-whiz than march into battle. Frederick Marquez elicited plentiful laughs as Chuck Biggs, the lovably geeky Dungeon Master, with hilarious one-liners and miscommunications such as “I’m big where it counts . . . As in, my brain!” And we mustn’t forget everyone’s favorite bumbling nerd, complete with cape and scuffed sneakers, the “Great Mage” Steve (Jacob Durish)! Entering each of his scenes with a hilariously bombastic “It is I,” and promptly losing the fight, Durish infused levity and naïve determination into the play.
Technically, backlighting by Henson Doan proved exceptional, while makeup and costumes captivated the audience. Although spotlights faltered at times, rich green and purple lights bathed the stage in Dungeons and Dragons scenes, enhancing the play’s element of mystical fantasy. The lengthiness of some scene changes at times detracted from plot flow. Makeup, led by Kimberly Quispe, appeared breathtaking; especially commendable was Orcus’ full-body red makeup. Similarly, Dungeons and Dragons costumes, managed by Skyler Estrella, coupled well with character personalities. The comically grotesque monster costumes enhanced the play’s overall lighthearted spirit.
Ultimately, the entire cast and crew of Robert E. Lee High’s production contributed effort and energy to create an enjoyable 90s-themed romp through a beautifully weird world of dragons - and of sisterly love.
The New School of Northern Virginia
Heroic adventures, magical weapons, epic battles against shape-shifting monsters… Sounds more like a videogame than a play? Well, as it turns out, it’s both! She Kills Monsters, performed by the students of Robert E. Lee high school, brings viewers into the fantastical world of Dungeons and Dragons through the eyes of a young woman on a journey to connect with a deceased loved one.
Qui Nguyen’s comedy tells the story of Agnes Evans, an extraordinarily “normal” woman with a “normal” life who is questing for answers after her entire family is killed in a car crash. The Ohio high school teacher, desperately searching for closure, loses herself in a Dungeons and Dragons adventure crafted by her nerdy 15-year-old sister, Tilly Evans. Guided by her dungeon Master, Agnes slowly puts aside her sarcastic disdain for the geeky world of fantasy role-playing games and learns to embrace her sister for who she truly was.
The production is filled with passionately intense combat scenes, including smooth swordplay and daring flips set against a fast-paced playlist of 90’s classics. The company wholeheartedly embraced the epic style of video game graphics with bold movements and dramatic sound effects. This high-intensity action is interspersed with comic remarks by the cocky demon overlord Orcus (Daniel Burgess) and the Dungeon Master, dorky high school student Chuck Biggs (Frederick Marquez).
Senior Kiana Burch played the role of Agnes, brought the audience on an emotional journey through multiple worlds. However, her commitment to the description of “normal” at times caused her to be overshadowed in the video game scenes by her sister Tilly Evans (Remy Thompson) and in her role as the tough, sexy heroine of her own adventure. Thompson convincingly balanced the part of a powerful, confident adventuress with the insecurities of a 15-year-old girl being faced with cheerleader bullies and the struggles of discovering her sexual identity.
Steve (Jacob Durish), another geeky student at Evans’ high school, had the audience roaring with excellently timed entrances and dorky one-liners that gave a hilariously acute representation of the socially ignorant, nerdy gamer stereotype. The appearance of Vera (Winta Habtemichael), Agnes’ no-nonsense friend and school counselor, is also sure to provide comic relief, with her natural snark that makes the real-life scenes just as vibrant as the enchanted, monster-infested world of Dungeons and Dragons.
The settings for both the real world and game scenes were created with a simple, yet effective backdrop. The game world, however, was enriched by detailed costumes for the villains, the clear highlight of which being the five-headed dragon costume that appeared during the final showdown, occupying the entire width of the stage.
A comical and creative performance, Robert E Lee’s production of She Kills Monsters presents an emotionally powerful storyline with a humorous twist.