“She Kills Monsters” is geek dreamfest at the Ixion
LANSING, Mich.–It’s not your average night at the theater.
There are demon cheerleaders, lesbian dark elves, grumpy fairies, a dragon and a whole bunch of dice rolling.
If it sounds more like a night of tabletop role playing, you’re not far off. She Kills Monsters at Ixion in Lansing brings a role playing game to the stage and tells stories within stories. It played to a sold-out house opening night and was filled with an audience young enough to appreciate every joke and revel in the 90s setting.
The show, written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Jeff Croff, follows the journey of Average Agnes, a school teacher who wants to learn more about her younger sister who was killed in a car crash. All she has left is a D&D module that Tilly wrote, one that reveals more about her than Agnes ever expected. But to get at that information, she has to first learn how to play D&D—Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s a script that is far richer than originally meets the eye. Yes, it is a comedy and filled with all the geekiness that any D&D fan can appreciate. But it is also a heart-touching story, one which talks about loss, acceptance, and fighting for one’s soul.
It’s a big show with a large cast to put on the very small stage at The Robin Theatre. Croff staged it well so it never seemed overly crowded, though the DM was often lost in the corner. It’s a show that was uneven in the ability levels of the cast. There were some who lacked the skills of speaking loudly and slowly enough to be heard in a room full of people, even though the space was small.
Most of the performances were good though. Katy Kettles played Agnes and she had good comic timing as well as being able to carry the more emotionally heavy parts of the show. She was particularly good at knowing how long to pause to wait for the crowd to stop laughing before continuing on with her lines.
Stormy Boyer played the seemingly tough Tilly Evans, making an appearance from beyond the grave, a not-quite-ghost that slowly revealed herself to Agnes. Boyer was beautifully vulnerable when she needed to be while still being tough and resilient when the script called for that. She made us sorry that she was dead and her storytelling at a near end.
Tobin Bates was hilarious as Chuck “DM” Biggs, the dungeon master (DM) who thought he was far sexier than he was. Bates fully committed to the part, making choices that were big and broad. He kept the dice rolling and the laughs coming.
The “party” which would travel with Agnes (“the Asshatted”—yes, there’s a lot of language in this show) were just the right mix of “cool” and “geek.” They were the personification of a high school lesbian’s dreams, with Monica Tanner playing the scantily clad Lilith, demon princess; Danica O’Neill being Kaliope, the sucker-toting dark elf; and Daniel Bonner as the gay demon Orcus. Each of them committed to their roles as fantasy creatures while also doubling as real life people who were part of Tilly’s life. For Tanner in particular, this required a great deal of sensitivity, which she showed.
Then there were those characters making appearances as almost an ongoing gag. Christian Thompson was a hilarious Steve who often showed up to demonstrate how monsters worked and then again to demonstrate the ineptitude of the high school counselor, Vera (played by Danielle R. Lynch).
Evil Gabbi and Evil Tina were the succubi cheerleaders, played by Morgan Pohl and Allison Simmons respectively. While their presence was announced with a gun of confetti, they played a more serious role as Tilly used them to reveal the bullying that she was subjected to as a lesbian. Both of them were definitely evil and made Tilly even more sympathetic. Those two actresses also doubled in other roles in which they were particularly effective. Pohl opens the show as the narrator and speaks clearly and familiarly, drawing the audience in.
The show was filled with plenty of fight choreography, a task shared by John Lennox and Ian Griffin. It was very story-telling based, with fights between the main characters and monsters using fake swords, morning stars and maces. There were also plenty of street brawl style fights with fists and open palms.
Costume designer Erica Beck and costumer Sadonna Croff likely got their inspiration from cosplayers and D&D books as the party was decked out in true fantasy role playing style, enough to make Agnes remark on it. Especially well done was Tilly’s leather armor for her role as paladin. It gave her just the right mix of strength and vulnerability. She was clearly the party leader yet didn’t have the over-the-top sexiness of the other two female party members.
To cover up scene changes, “monsters” came out to entertain the crowd in front of the curtain. This was often very effective as it continued the theme and added to the comic elements of the play. The problem only came in when there were scenes that ended on an intense moment. The monsters were too much of a swift change in mood and didn’t leave the audience enough time to process what had just happened.
She Kills Monsters is a different sort of comedy with definite appeal to both a niche market of gamers, a wider market of those who care about LGBT issues and a nearly universal market of those who seek an understanding of loss and search for meaning in their own lives. The Ixion version felt slightly unready for opening, but had enough right with it that some scenes were very polished and there was the promise that the rest would get there by the second weekend.