Wakefield High School
Grab your dice and swords, because Mount Vernon High School's "She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition" invites audiences to embark on a game of Dungeons & Dragons filled with magical beasts, action-packed battles, and heart-wrenching affection.
"She Kills Monsters" by Qui Nguyen debuted off-off-Broadway in 2011 and has become a hit amongst high schools and colleges, even gaining a "Young Adventurers Edition" rewrite from the author to account for the popularity. The play follows Agnes, the stereotypical small-town high school cheerleader, in the wake of the death of her younger sister, Tilly, a geek and outcast who Agnes always hoped would grow out of her nerdy obsessions. After Agnes finds a notebook in Tilly's room detailing a Dungeons & Dragons module her sister had written, she sets out to play it, hoping to learn more about Tilly--and getting more from it than she ever expected.
The show was cleanly produced and executed, each character with their own signature charm and design that brought the performance to life. The cast fed off the audience's energy and had fun with the crowd, especially shining in full-ensemble scenes like the engagingly choreographed battles--both those with swords and axes and the ones with period-accurate dance moves.
JJ Dunn, as Tilly, delivered a captivating, touching performance that was authentic throughout, bringing a mature air but lapsing into a childlike vulnerability when faced with strife. Agnes was played by Roni Baird, who guided the story with ease and made Agnes's redemption feel like true character growth. The interactions between Dunn and Baird were sisterly and poignant, a highlight of the show.
Accompanying Dunn on Tilly's voyage were Christine Mayen-Franco (as Lilith/Lily), Mustang Johnson (as Kaliope/Kelly), and Micheal Hodges (as Orcus/Ronnie). Mayen-Franco displayed great range, transforming domineering confidence into insecure meekness flawlessly. Johnson was witty and sharp, with stage-combat ability that showed a notable strength. Hodges was hilariously casual and cleverly delivered scripted quips about ‘90s television shows.
The production shined in its attention to detail. The lighting, headed by Elizabeth Snyder and Jack Dova, literally and metaphorically set the scene--bright, magical colors in the fantasy realm and banal hues for reality. The costumes (Kailah Augustine, Phoenix Bryant, JJ Dunn, Grace McCain) were enchanting, intricate, and perfectly suited to each character. Several quick changes were impressively executed by the stage crew throughout the performance. Facilitating the scene transitions and battles was a selection of distinctly immersive songs (chosen by Elizabeth Snyder, Jack Dova, & crew) that allowed for '90s grunge and dancing wizards to be seamlessly integrated in one cohesive soundtrack.
Lighthearted antics and heartbreakingly intimate moments coalesced through this production, creating a performance that felt complete yet primed to commence another grand adventure. Mount Vernon High School's "She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition" was enthralling, wondrous, and moving from start to finish, reminding all that life truly is but a "collection of stories" and inspiring audience members to forge their own.
Fairfax High School
Sisterly bonds can withstand the toughest fights, but can they survive a dragon? Audiences were transported to a fantastical world where swords clashed, and geeks ruled at Mount Vernon High School's captivating production of "She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition."
"She Kills Monsters" by Qui Nguyen originally debuted in 2011 and has proven to be a popular pick for young theater companies. Set in the 1990s, it chronicles the story of Agnes and Tilly Evans, two sisters with vastly different personalities. When Tilly tragically dies, Agnes ventures to discover more about her geeky little sister through one of the only things she left behind: a Dungeons & Dragons game.
Leading the charge into battle was JJ Dunn as Tilly. Though often portraying Tilly's confident in-game persona with a swagger in their step and a commanding voice, Dunn showed off their arsenal of varied personas. From a dorky child to a powerful hero to a terrified, closeted teenager, Dunn's distinct choices–such as a quiver in the voice–portrayed clear shifts between identities. Dunn's ability to work with fellow actors shone in their scenes with Roni Baird (Agnes). Likewise, Baird's palpable love for her onstage sister grounded the sometimes outlandish fantasy of the show. Often playing the straight man, Baird proved to be wonderful at delivering quippy remarks yet able to convey Agnes's vulnerability during her monologue.
Of course, no Dungeons & Dragons game is complete without a team of adventurers. Micheal Hodges portrayed Orcus, a demon and daytime television fanatic. Whether he was presenting the audience with a grand map or participating in a dance-off against evil cheerleaders, Hodges consistently carried a comical slacker energy, including wonderfully timed jests about his reluctant presence. As Lilith/Lily, Christine Mayen-Franco was able to showcase her impressive range, creating a clear break between the flirtatious in-game demon queen, Lilith, and her real-world counterpart, the timid Lily. Bringing down the house with every entrance was Matthew Boehm as Steve. Boehm was a delightful, high-energy presence and milked every moment of his limited stage time, leaving the audience in uproarious laughter.
Tying the show together were the beautifully integrated technical aspects. The lighting, by Elizabeth Snyder and Jack Dova, gave the audience a visually satisfying division between the real world and the fiction of the game. The stage was illuminated in greens, purples, and blues during fantasy sequences, but when snapped back to reality, it returned to a standard white light. The props, created by Eva Greek and Jaden Harris, showed immense creativity, whether it be through dragon heads that lit up in a myriad of colors or a gelatinous cube made of fabric and PVC pipe that an actor could inhabit. Each monster was given a distinct costume and handcrafted mask made by the hair and makeup team (Mustang Johnson and Catherine Stankewick). The costume team, led by Kailah Augustine, Phoenix Bryant, JJ Dunn, and Grace McCain, not only outfitted actors, but the run crew were also given ‘90s grunge looks, adding to the authenticity of the show.
Whether fighting faeries or fighting off bullies, the characters in Mount Vernon High School's production of "She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers' Edition" offered a new perspective on what it means to remember, and sometimes that means slaying a few dragons.