She Kills Monsters at the Playwrights Center

 

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Playwrights’ Center, on a chill November night, perfect for some D&D!

I’ve been meaning to write a more in depth article, but the Twin Cities has always had a strong population of geeks, nerds, and other weirdoes, a scene of which I have some familiarity. This was illustrated by a fine theatrical production I was lucky enough to see the other night, She Kills Monsters, at the Playwrights’ Center on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis.

Written by Qui Nguyen for performance in New York, and directed by Philip D. Henry of Six Elements Theatre for its first Minneapolis production, this was a nostalgic, hilarious, bittersweet, and touching account of role playing games, relationships, and grief. A sold out show, the house was packed and ready for some

After the death of her eccentric teenage sister in a car accident, Agnes Evans, the self-described normal person, attempts to get to understand her sister better through her home-brewed AD&D module, enlisting the aid of local nerd, DM Biggs, to run her through the game. The play deals with some pretty heavy themes as she gets to know things about her sister she had missed; sexual orientation, bullying, and guilt, but the play’s great sense of humor and mid 90s setting bring joy as well. In particular, as she embarks on a journey of imagination with her sisters’ party, whom she discovers is based on her friends, the actors engage in some great stage combat with awesome looking fantasy swords and a host of everyone’s favorite D&D monsters, from kobolds (DiTerlizzi style!), mind flayers, gelatinous cubes, and, of course, beholder. The set design was also great, down to the battle map hexagons on the floor.

While there is plenty of such in jokes regarding D&D and nineties pop culture, it is also well crafted to be an introduction to such arcane topics and doesn’t delve too deeply into self-reference, taking on broader themes. She Kills Monsters is an ode to the healing power of imagination and a great way to get people who may not really get the appeal of such fun, weird games to see what it’s all about. It also helps that the actors each bring their roles (and rolls, because of course we’re gonna have dice) to life, making it the most fun production I’ve seen this year! In particular, Jessica Smith as Agnes and Samatha Smith as her nerdy, headstrong sister Tilly, and Aaron Ruder as Chuck, aka “DM Biggs,” really nailed their characters. The post-show discussion was also a great way to find out some interesting background information about the development of the show

If Six Elements ever embarks on an encore performance of She Kills Monsters, you should totally check it out!

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