Qui Nguyen’s comedy of coming-out, She Kills Monsters, blurbs as a run-of-the-mill satire about geeky teenagers and their barely out of adolescence high school teachers, but it is uplifted by some exceptional stagecraft. Agnes, a milquetoast English instructor (the resourceful Maggie Irwin1), comes across a Dungeons and Dragons scenario written by her younger sister Tilly (the commanding Rebecca Hausman), who has died too young in a car crash. To discover the withdrawn sister she never really knew, Agnes tumbles into the role-playing world of D&D, and much of the early comedy flows from this fish-out-of-water situation: when asked her
affiliation alignment,2 Agnes offers, “Well, I’m a Democrat.” On her quest for the lost soul of Athens (well, Ohio), Tilly’s characters appear in live action, dragging Agnes along with them.
It’s the outstanding fight choreography, designed by Casey Kaleba, that transforms this play. Working on a multi-level set by Ethan Sinnott inspired by Avalon Hill’s hexes, and in a in-the-round seating configuration in the Atlas’s Sprenger black box (with its sometimes unforgiving acoustics), Kaleba and stage director Randy Baker deliver lots of multiple simultaneous fights, good sight lines, a variety of weapons, and safety for all.
The play’s a hilarious smashup of pop culture references from the 1990s and places you can see from there. (Did Louis E. Davis’s evil, rams-horned Orcus just riff on Quantum Leap?) Naturally, in this estrogen-powered adventure (Orcus is the token guy on the quest), delicate fairies like Farrah (gymnastically executed by Emma Lou Hébert) turn out to be wicked badasses. And the final set piece, a dance-off between Agnes’s crew and a band of evil cheerleaders that escalates from Wham! (“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”) through the Spice Girls into En Vogue territory (“My Lovin’ [You're Never Gonna Get It]“), is quite wonderful and fizzy fun.
- She Kills Monsters, by Qui Nguyen, directed by Randy Baker, fight choreography by Casey Kaleba, Rorschach Theatre, Atlas Performing Arts Center Paul Sprenger Theatre, Washington
And “Volcano Girls” for the curtain call!
1 Thanks, Leta!
2 Thanks, Brett!