SALT LAKE CITY — She Kills Monsters, produced by the University of Utah’s Department of Theatre, is a worthwhile performance to see. The play, written by Vietnamese playwright Qui Nguyen, was outstanding. I loved the overly theatrical bits, the sarcasm, and the “nerd” lingo. The set and characters and monsters looked spectacular, and I was most impressed by the final boss and all that went into creating that scene. There were only a few things that bothered me, but it didn’t take away from the show much.
Nguyen’s play begins with a narrator, decked out in full mage garb and tells the story of Tilly, while in the background silhouettes act out her tail heroically and hilariously. After a terrible accident with the family, the only remaining child, Agnes, who is Tilly’s 7-year-older sister, embarks on a journey to finally connect with her sibling and find out who she was. She uses Tilly’s notebook in which Tilly had written a Dungeon’s and Dragon’s (D&D) campaign, finds her old dungeon master, and asks him to teach her how to play. The dungeon master takes on the challenge and through his talented skills he is able to role play as Agnes’s sister and her friends who used to hang together, allowing Agnes to see deep into her deceased sister’s personality.
I went with my husband because we have embarked on some D&D adventures together, so that made this play a fitting date. We were impressed with Allison Billmeyer’s performance as Tilly. Her costume, designed by Peter Terry, was magnificent, and the way her clothing was presented in an announcement-like fashion, similar to the movie Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, was amazingly awesome. Piper Salazar did well as Agnes, and the character change as she got further into playing the game was interesting and deep. The moment when Agnes yelled at Chuck (played by Amona Faatau) to keep playing her sister at the end helped me see how much the experience was helping her connect to a sister she felt ashamed to reach out to after having neglected the relationship so much while Tilly was alive.
Faatau was hilarious, and his comedic timing was great. The moment when he messed with Agnes during a scene with the Elf (played by Lexie Thomsen) was so funny. Krystal DeCristo played Lillith, the other team member, next to Thomsen, and together their characters gave interesting variety to the team. I loved DeCristo’s stances as she moved forward maliciously to devour creatures. I also thought she did so well playing such a starkly different character as her high school version of Lilly.
Aria Klein who played many roles, stood out above the rest of the cast. She was the Narrator at the beginning and end, the fairy, and the evil cheerleader. Klein especially impressed me with her spunky attitude that enhanced her shorter character. Her acting skills mixed with stunt work made her so fun to watch perform.
I applaud the director, Jamie Rocha Allan, because this show was so well made that I was grateful to have seen it. The use of space, levels, tumbling, dancing, acting, set, lighting, puppets, and silhouettes, were all fantastic and came together to create a memorable work of theatre. Rachael Harned designed the lighting, which gave me chills during the scene with one of the monsters; Harned kept the stage dark, except for the monster’s eyes, which made the whole stage look eerie. Scenic designer Thomas George made the set like a stone castle, which fit the D&D setting perfectly, and the set hosted each scene well and maintained an appropriate atmosphere.
There were a couple things I wish were different about the play. Though Nguyen wrote this script so well, bringing fans and newbs alike into the world of D&D, he made one vital error by making one of the evil bosses “The Observer,” and let Agnes kill him in one blow. Later my husband remarked after looking it up that there is no possible way she could have killed that boss, as he is so intimidating and difficult to fight, he’s even on the cover of the D&D monster manual. It was discrediting to make such a worthy boss seem so wimpy. The second issue we had with this performance was the absolute and seemingly lack of microphones. The theater was large, and the performer’s voices small. The cast did well despite the lack of vocal enhancement, but we missed a lot of lines that I am sure were important.
Despite these issues, She Kills Monsters was still amazing, and it would be great to see it again. The show is a wonderful way to spend an evening, whether you are a D&D fan or a person looking for a compelling story, some great monsters, or a quality performance. I do hope the cast gets microphones, though, so nobody else has to strain to hear and try not to cough or sneeze. Still, my husband and I greatly enjoyed seeing She Kills Monsters, and I recommend it to all nerds, wanna be nerds, and whomever they can drag with them to the theater.