‘She Kills Monsters’ delightfully entertaining

The Quest for the Lost Soul of Athens, Ohio was shrouded in mystery, hidden away and never meant to be revealed. That is until an ordinary teacher became destined to equip a sword and shield, slay the monsters and discover the truth behind an unplayed game’s significance.

Presented by SSU’s Theatre Arts and Dance department is “She Kills Monsters,” a play by Qui Nguyen and directed by Theatre Arts professor Paul Draper about a high school professor named Agnes Evans (Ashlyn Kelley) who discovers the extensive imagination and creativity her late younger sister Tilly Evans (Cassandra Slagle) left behind in the classic role-playing world of “Dungeons & Dragons.”

Opening night took place on Wednesday with performances continuing through Saturday in Studio 119 of Ives Hall. The venue is fairly small with limited seating, making the event a more intimate occasion to attend. For those unable to see the production, it will resume on March 26 until March 29.

In a time where technology was less advanced and being a nerd wasn't as embraced, specifically Athens, Ohio in 1995, the Evans’ family is torn apart in a tragic accident, leaving only older sibling Agnes to pick up the pieces left behind while in the process of moving into her new apartment with the boyfriend of five years, Miles (Matthew Lindberg).

Agnes comes across her teenage sister’s written module, or D&D adventure, learning more and more about the world of interest she created through high schooler Chuck DM Biggs (Jake Burke), a heavyset fellow who often pokes fun at what people think about him on the outside, letting everyone know he’s big where it counts.

Biggs agrees to become Agnes’ Dungeon Master (DM) and together they reveal a fantasy world unlike any other, no longer hidden inside the mind of Tilly. 

While parodying elements of the game in humorous fashion to unfamiliar audiences, fans can rejoice at the considerably true adaptation allowing this role-playing game to come to life for all to enjoy.

As the adventure begins, the party is formed, consisting of Tilly’s superior version of herself as the powerful fighter known as Tilius the Paladin, her two heroines Lilith (Sarah Crabbe) and Kaliope (Amber Bianchi), as well as Agnes, who unwittingly deems her name to be Agnes the Ass-hatted to the amusement of her allies.

These scantily clad adventurers carry battle axes and legendary swords, with costumes to match their badassery. 

Along the way they encounter a slacker demon named Orcus (Connor Pratt) and many creatures to deal with such as kobolds, lizards and bugbears. They also encounter four deadly bosses, including an enormous gelatinous cube (George Tapia).

The ultimate payoff however, for theatregoers and fantasy enthusiasts alike, comes with the final boss: the almighty five-headed dragon known as the Tiamat—cue lightning strike sound effect. This amazing menace of a beast had help in construction from Sonoma County puppet master, Mary Nagler, who was also involved in advising the eight students controlling it.

While much of the play takes place in a fantasy realm filled with all sorts of awesomeness for the inner gamer within everyone, there is also a near equal balance of story in the real world to capture the hardships Agnes is going through as she struggles to understand who her sister really was.

Something “She Kills Monsters” really takes into account is the timeframe, bringing back a host of 90s references and lingo for current SSU students to recognize and share in many moments of nostalgia. A few of most enjoyable highlights are the throwback music of the decade during scene changes and several fight sequences, as well as surprisingly explicit dialogue at times.

The cast as a whole did a splendid job feeding off of each other’s energy, with many unforeseen and entertaining characters appearing throughout the piece allowing for a delightfully fun ride of magical circumstances.

Upcoming performances from the Theatre Arts and Dance department also include “Spring Dance Concert” from April 11-19 in Evert B. Person Theatre. Concluding this spring season will be William Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” from April 25-27 in Studio 119 of Ives Hall.

Spring break is right around the corner, but be sure to catch one of the final four showings of “She Kills Monsters” the following week to relive some childhood memories and escape into a world where anyone can be an extraordinary hero.