Dialogue around sexual orientation and grief, the 1990s and the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons are all incorporated in The Nomadic Theatre’s newest show “She Kills Monsters.”
The show, written by Qui Nguyen, focuses on Agnes Evans, a young schoolteacher living in 1995 Athens, Ohio. At her college graduation, Agnes wishes for her life to become more exciting — then suddenly loses her family in a car crash.
As the show outlines, Agnes mourns the loss of her 15-year-old sister Tilly by playing Dungeons & Dragons, following a game map Tilly — or Tilius the Paladin, the eponymous “girl who kills monsters” — created before her death. Throughout “She Kills Monsters,” Agnes explores the virtual world Tilly left behind, getting to know her sister in ways she could not when her sister was alive.
The show stays true to the time, ensuring the costumes worn and songs played represent the trends of the 1990s. Director Zack Rettig (SFS ’19) blends the aesthetics of the time period with a love of role-playing games.
“I was initially attracted to ‘She Kills Monsters’ partly because of the personal resonance I felt with the show’s connection to Dungeons & Dragons, ’90s grunge music and culture and classic fantasy cinema,” Rettig wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The fantasy element of the show also necessitated risk-taking on the part of the production staff and actors. Amelia Walsh (SFS ’20), who plays Tilly, praised the projections, costumes, media and “high-fantasy action.”
“It’s a highly entertaining show,” Walsh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
One of the most impressive parts of “She Kills Monsters” is the frequency and intricacy of the blocking: The audience rarely goes five minutes without witnessing an elaborate sword battle.
“I was very excited by the practical challenge that [She Kills Monsters] presented through its intense fight choreography and demand for complex technical integration,” Rettig wrote.
Asha Merz (COL ’20), who plays Agnes’s best friend and the guidance counselor at Tilly’s former high school, highlighted the focus on blocking during rehearsals.
“In other shows I’ve worked on, there has been no need to integrate fight choreography into the rehearsal process,” Merz wrote in an email to The Hoya. “During this show, much more time was devoted to learning the fight moves, and running them slowly and methodically. It was essential to start slow, otherwise safety would be sacrificed.”
Beyond tackling difficult choreography — already an uncommon hurdle in Georgetown theater productions — the directing staff of “She Kills Monsters” also tried to invigorate the show by incorporating new actors.
“Part of what made this process so special was the inclusion of cast/crew members who hadn’t participated in Georgetown Theater before,” Rettig wrote.
For example, MaryLouise Sparrow (SFS ’19), who plays Agnes, had never been involved in theater before the show. Walsh, though she had been involved in theater production at Georgetown, had never acted in a show on campus.
Particularly because Dungeons & Dragons has passed its prime, the audience might have benefitted from a brief description of its historical influence before the start of the show. Despite this lack of explanation, however, the audience response has been positive.
“I’ve always known this was going to be an awesome show, but the outpouring of compliments was definitely unexpected,” Walsh said.
“The shows have been filled almost every run, which has been so great. It is always beneficial for the actor to have a lively audience to help feed their energy!” Merz wrote.
Although the show has myriad sword fights and elaborate Dungeons & Dragons exploration, the take-home messages speak to much more universal human experiences.
“This show asks us to reconsider what we may dismiss as ‘dorky’ or ‘nerdy’ and see that it can be something really wonderful and powerful,” Walsh wrote.
For Merz, “She Kills Monsters” explores how humans process grief and hardship.
“I’ve noticed that Georgetown students often push their troubles and negative feelings to the side, thinking they’ll go away if they stay unaddressed for long enough,” Merz wrote. “This show teaches that reckoning with pain is tough, but ultimately leads to a positive, healthy outcome.”
Rettig hopes audience members leave the show with a sense of self-satisfaction and pride in their individuality.
“To me, the show is very much about reckoning with who you are versus who society expects you to be,” Retting wrote. “I wanted to do something very ambitious that challenged our capabilities as a theater club, and while it felt for a long time as though we had bit off more than we could chew, every member of our cast and design team really stepped up to the plate and helped to realize the dream.”
To see this “dream,” replete with a dose of sci-fi, a lesson in grief management and a wave of ’90s music, head over to the Devine Studio Theatre for the final performances of “She Kills Monsters.”
“She Kills Monsters” has its final performances Wednesday to Saturday, April 11 to 14, at 8 p.m. at the Davis Performing Art Center in the Devine Studio Theatre. Tickets range from $8 to $12.