When you encounter a play about Dungeons & Dragons, the question naturally arises, is this a respectful treatment of the subject, or part of the recent pop-culture trend of geek appropriation? With She Kills Monsters, you’re in good hands with playwright Qui Nguyen, whose website proclaims him “Playwright, Screenwriter, Geek!” No nerds were harmed in this production by Buzz22 Chicago, part of Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep program.
As the story opens, the very normal Agnes, a high school English teacher, is packing up the belongings of her geeky little sister Tilly, who has recently died. When Agnes finds a notebook full of strange writings she doesn’t understand, she takes it to the local comic book guy to see if he can shed some light. The guy tells her it’s a Dungeons & Dragons homespun module written by Tilly … and if Agnes wants, he can help her play it. Desperate for any link to Tilly, Agnes undertakes the challenge.
As Agnes enters into the adventure and meets Tilly, they go to see Orcus, the demonic keeper of lost souls. Orcus turns out to be a softy and total slacker, who would give them Tilly’s soul if he had it. Unfortunately he sold it to a five-headed dragon in exchange for a combo TV-VCR, which he uses to keep up with 90’s must-see TV. Taking Orcus along, they meet two more party members along the way, a dark elf and a demon queen. (Or possibly a Tiefling.)
As the party progresses through the story, they encounter familiar D&D monsters including a beholder, mind flayer, bugbears, and some atypical ones including a homicidal woodland fairy. The monsters are imaginatively rendered using puppets, and the fight choreography is good. Even better is a dance-off against a pair of demonic mean-girl succubus cheerleaders.
The action cuts back and forth between the adventure and Agnes’ real life with her boyfriend and teaching job. As lines start blurring between the game and real life, Agnes starts cracking up, yelling inappropriately at students. She wrestles with some unexpected revelations, and struggles terribly with the fact that Tilly is both real and not-real.
She Kills Monsters is a fun celebration of individuality written by a true fan of geek culture. Worth seeing.