“She Kills Monsters,” written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Professor Marta Rainer is set in the 1990s and tells the tale of Agnes Evans, a seemingly “average” woman processing her grief over her sister Tilly’s unfortunate death in a car crash by playing through a second edition Dungeons and Dragons module she left behind. I was absolutely wowed by the production. The nostalgia factor was used as a backdrop against the complex interpersonal dynamics, so the characters could shine without leaning too heavily into moments of cringe humor. The all-student cast delivered each of their lines with enthusiasm and heart. There isn’t enough room in this article for me to write about how much I adored each and every character, but from Michelle Atwood ‘19’s performance as awkward high school nerd boy and Dungeon Master Chuck, to Micah Fong ‘22’s role as the suave Lilith, each member of the cast absolutely shined in their oftentimes double roles as fantasy heroines and average high schoolers. The efforts of the main cast were augmented by the supporting cast who, dressed in all black, were blank canvases who switched between roles as hideous monsters and kuroko-like stagehands who helped move the plot along. Some of the funniest moments of the show weren’t scripted, but instead were brought to life by the supporting cast.
This play, like most Wellesley College theatre productions, was further strengthened by a phenomenal set by David Towlun and impeccable costuming by Chelsea Kerl. When you walked into the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre you were immediately transported to a set that came out of a D&D player’s dream. Oversized, glowing dice — a d20, a d12 and two percentile dice to be specific) were spread across the topmost layer of a multi-tiered stage. The rest of the “playing field” so to speak was covered in a hexagonal grid –– a reference to the grids used by players to mark in-game distances. Soft lights were used to visually separate events in game from events in the “real world,” though the fact that in-game events took place center stage made you wonder whether the game was ultimately more real than Agnes expected. The characters, starting with the Narrator (Lia James) were alternately clothed in fantasy battle regalia and nostalgic nineties fashion — the big pink scrunchie that tied together Vera (Lindsey Gordon)’s all-pink outfit was a personal favorite of mine. These little details may not have meant much to some in the audience, but they complemented the phenomenal acting brilliantly, making for a very well-constructed show.
The show gained an additional level of fantasy flair through its use of fight choreography by renowned stage combat director Sarah Flanagan. I had the privilege of participating in a stage combat workshop she ran during the “She Kills Monsters” audition process, and as a result have personal experience with her dynamic style. The fight scenes in the show –– of which there were many –– flowed seamlessly with the dialogue and music. Flanagan made good use of the weapons each character chose to use as well, creating realistic, personal fight choreography that was a joy to watch.
One of my favorite moments in the entire production took place toward the end of the production, right as Agnes was struggling with the emotions brought about by her foray into her sister’s psyche and asking the rest of Tilly’s friends why they had bothered to start playing in the first place. “We play it because it’s awesome. It’s about adventures and saving the world and having magic. And maybe, in some small teeny capacity, I guess it might have a little to do with wish fulfillment,” says Tilly Evans in response. Though I was moved by most of the second half of the play, it was at this point that more than a few tears were shed. The author and the actors truly understood the importance of escapism that D&D can provide for those who might not have outlets for their frustrations with a society that seeks to marginalize them. Indeed, queer D&D players, disabled D&D players and D&D players who simply feel that they don’t fit into mainstream society found themselves represented in this play by characters who love the game for similar reasons. The D&D campaign I play with my friends every other Sunday is often the highlight of my week, and that same joy was lovingly reflected in each scene of “She Kills Monsters.”
I wish I could recommend this show to the entire Wellesley community, but it unfortunately closed this Sunday, April 14. Those who did see it will remember it as a geeky, hilarious production with a lot of heart that was incredibly fun for every member of the audience, whether they were there for the drama, the D&D or just to support a friend in the production. I’d like to congratulate the entire cast and crew from the main characters to the monsters on a job well done, and to remind theatre fans that more fun shows, including Wellesley Upstage’s “Dry Land,” are always in the works. Though this campaign has drawn to a close, there are still many more adventures to come!