I went to see She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen at Green Globe Theatre on a warm Friday night. In case you didn’t know, Green Globe Theatre is Baltimore’s resident Eco-friendly theater company. I learned this quickly when I didn’t find any printed programs and was informed that the program was on the website. Cast and crew bios were projected on a wall as well. An interesting concept, but I still missed the piece of paper that I would inadvertently throw away. Well played Green Globe. I entered the theater currently in residence at the Breath of God Lutheran Church in Highlandtown not really knowing what to expect. I was a bad BITR Sister and I didn’t do my homework prior to going to the show. I’ve been busy, it happens. I frantically searched Google and Wikipedia for a show synopsis and was able to learn that the show was about Dungeons and Dragons, aka D&D. In college I had a few friends who played D&D and did a little LARPing (Live Action Role Playing). I knew a little bit about the world but not enough to be dangerous. Before I could learn more about the show the house lights went off and a booming overlord type narrator voice thing (Mr. Rosko Lewis) started the show.
The audience was transported back to a simpler time. The year was 1993 when music was loud and moody and the internet was in its infancy. A young teenage D&D icon named Tilly (Ms. Linda Roby) was killed in a car crash with her parents. Agnes (Ms. Nicki Seibert), a teacher at the local high school, mourns the loss of her younger sister by playing the D&D game of her sister’s creation. But we find out this is more than just a game. On the D&D adventure we meet a band of warriors to include daughter of the Devil and flesh eating warrior Lillith (Ms. Lianna Brizzi), Elvin model and cleric Kaliope (Ms. Rebecca Clendaniel) and Lord of the Underworld Orcas (Mr. Sam O’Farrell) who were fantasy adaptations of Tilly’s real life friends. As Agnes plays the game, she learns more about the life of the kid sister she ignored growing up. Agnes’ clueless boyfriend Miles (Mr. Jacob Reese) and guidance counselor best friend Vera, (Ms. Brandi Elizabeth Brown) try to be supportive of this strange grieving process as Agnes fights evil demons, shapeshifters, and faires alongside the others in D&D land.
Chuck aka Dungeon Master (DM) aka DM Biggs, played by Mr. Jeff Miller, served as Agnes’ “spiritual guide” through Tilly’s D&D world. DM Biggs was hands down my favorite character. He was nerdy, lovable, and funny. Mr. Miller made big, bold choices as an actor and it paid off. It looked like he was having fun playing an awkward teenage Dungeon master. Rock on DM, rock on. Another standout performance was that of Ms. Lianna Brizzi. I enjoyed watching her strength and intensity as Lillith the “muscle” in the travelling group of warriors. As Lilly, the real life teen girl version of Lillith, she was emotionally tender during a particularly revealing scene. I believed her teenage confusion and vulnerability. Ms. Brizzi showed emotional range and full characterizations in this production and it was a joy to watch. Ms. Nicki Seibert as Agnes had sweetness and sincerity in her performance especially when opposite her sister Tilly, played by Ms. Linda Roby. I felt the connection between them as sisters. They ached to really know one another better, and playing a game was as close as they would ever get. Beautifully done ladies.
Qui Nguyen’s witty dialogue had a splash of 90s pop culture references and multiple references to the double entendre of “Role-playing” was a nice touch. Yes my mind is always in the gutter. Songs from the 90s were pumped from the speakers during the pre-show and intermission. Again, well played Green Globe. You somehow knew I had a weakness for 90s music.
The set was minimalist and was all it needed to be. A cube on wheels with each side representing a forest, a classroom, a room, a cave or whatever was rotated for each scene. I thought this use of space was creative and well played by set designer Mr. Hayden Muller. Small pyramids on either side also rotated to match the main cube scene. I thought the pyramids were a distraction because sometimes the pyramid sides didn’t match the cube sides and I didn’t know their function. The costumes were funky fresh. The “real world” costumes were plain and 90s inspired, but the real creativity of the costume designer was displayed in the D&D characters. I loved the bodysuit/fishnet/boot combination of the travelling female friends, the “suicide squad” inspired evil cheerleader succubi, and the evil Bug-bear masks and claws. Who did the costumes? Joanna Para- I want to thank you for this awesomeness! The props were da bomb and fit the world created by Mr. Nguyen. The weapons looked real enough to vanquish an evil demon. Can Prop designer/Weapons master Mr. Glen Haupt make me a unworldly weapon with legos on it? I’ll send you my address.
Fight choreography was on point! What good is D&D without fighting with awesome weapons? Exactly. Great job Mr. Luis “Matty” Montes! One technical area in need of improvement was the lighting. At times the actors were in the dark especially when downstage center. I’m not sure if it was a technical SNAFU on opening night, but the lighting recovered quickly. Lighting designer Mr. Hayden Muller (he did the set AND the lights!?!) used cool, darkened tones during battle scenes and soft hues during the intimate moments of the play and it really set the mood of each scene. Sound design by Mr. Sam O’Farrell was inventive and rad. The sounds were synthesized, gamer-like, and grungy especially during the fight scenes. I felt like I was inside of a 90s video game and that was wicked cool! Overall the production value needed a little improvement, but Green Globe made up for it in enthusiasm, creativity and committed performances from the cast. It made the flaws a little less visible.
Staging could have been tighter to alleviate some of the dead space between scenes, but it was a good use of the whole theater space. Direction was too legit too quit and you could tell that Mr. Jesse Marciniak encouraged all of the actors to find their inner teen angst or evil demon or weapon wielding warrior. All of the actors fully embodied their characters and that made the show fun to watch. I would have liked to see the volume turned up a little bit on their performances though. The energy was there but some of the actors needed to punch up their characterizations. For example, I wanted Ms. Linda Roby to play Tilly’s D&D persona up more so that the intimate moments where she was “herself” with her sister were better differentiated. I’d say the best thing about this play was that it featured strong, intelligent, powerful, yet flawed women as main characters. It’s always refreshing to see women represented as full characters and not just side pieces. Also women wielding weapons is bad ass! I want to see more of this!
This show was ultimately about identity. Who are we really? What face do we let others see? Were Tilly and her friends their true selves in the real world or in the fantasy world of D&D? In the game Tilly showed Agnes the way she wanted her sister to see her: confident and powerful even when she felt like an unsure geek in real life. At the end of the day “we’re all geeks” in some form or another. Awkward, nerdy and trying to figure it all out.
She Kills Monsters was not what I expected. It was a unique and imaginative script full of adventure, 90s pop culture references and heart. It had humor and tender moments sprinkled in between fight scenes with evil creatures and surprisingly captured the awkwardness of being a teen girl. It was a nerdy theater paradise! She Kills Monsters had just the right amount of fantasy subgenre and theater magic to make it enjoyable for everyone. Qui Nguyen asks the question “isn’t that what life is, a collection of stories?” Yeah, it sure is and Green Globe told this particular story with energy, creativity, imagination, and passion. This was no frills local theater at its best. I see you Green Globe!
Should I stay or should I go? Go see this fun D&D extravaganza and walk down the nostalgic memory lane of the 1990s. D&D enthusiasts and newbs alike will enjoy this heartwarming tale. Grab your chokers and flannel, pull up a chair, and throw the die to experience this Qui Nguyen adventure. The dungeon master awaits. (Z)
One weekend left! April 13th and 14th at 8pm http://www.greenglobetheatre.org
Running time: about 2 hours