Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Lakewood Theatre Company’s production of She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen. This was a play I had been dying to see. I play Dungeons and Dragons with friends most weekends, and was very much looking forward to seeing a play that features the popular table top, role-playing game. I had never been to the Lakewood Theatre, and had never seen a play by Mr. Nguyen. As such, I had no idea what to expect of the play. All I knew was that She Kills Monsters is about a woman who plays her sister’s homemade D&D module after she dies in a tragic car accident. I expected a heavy play, full of emotion and cathartic moments.
She Kills Monsters is the story of Agnes, played by Jaimie Kirkland, a high school English teacher who loses her family in a car accident, including her teen sister, Tilly. In an attempt to better understand the sister she was never close to, Agnes decides to play a Dungeons and Dragons module, written by Tilly. With the help of Chuck the DM, partnered with a group of imaginary game characters inspired by Tilly and her friends, known as The Party, Agnes quests for a relationship with her sister, as she battles monsters, fairies, and some inner demons.
What I didn’t expect was to laugh so much. This play is absolutely hilarious. I don’t know if I have ever laughed at a play as much as I did last night. She Kills Monsters is brimming with all the witty teenage humor one would expect from a play so steeped in 90’s pop culture aesthetics. At times, I felt like I was watching All That or The Amanda Show. The cast made excellent use of the material, and demonstrated a great understanding of comedic timing, giving the audience time to recover before sending them out of their chairs with another punchline. Andrew Gateley showed a particular talent for comedic timing. There is a scene in the school between Agnes’ boyfriend, and her best friend, during which, I swear, I very nearly fell out of my chair from laughing. Adam Harris’ character, a very brave… and persistent wizard was absolutely hilarious.
For all the great comedy, She Kills Monsters also carries a great deal of dramatic weight. This play attempts to tackle what its like to be young, and feel like an outcast. As stated in the production’s press release:
In addition to the action-packed comedy, “She Kills Monsters” also touches on the ever-present bullying of geeks and gamers and LGBTQ youth, in particular. For many, the fantasy world of role-playing games is more than just fun – it is also a refuge from the continuous hostility towards LGBTQ youth in the real world.
There is a particular scene in which Tilly and Agnes are attacked by demons, who look suspiciously like cheerleaders, who assault the sisters physically and emotionally. This scene was hard to watch, and the audience went silent. I really felt for the characters. It takes a well adjusted, talented, actor to perform traumatic scenes like this one, and Jamie Kirk and and Abby West do a fantastic job.
The visuals for the play are simple, but effective. The stage is painted to look like a D&D battle map. There are few set pieces, allowing maximum room for fight choreography. One of the best parts of the show is the costumes, made by Zoe Garner. Abby West’s Tillius costume conveys the characters heroism very well. Orcus’ costume added very well to the character’s raunchy nature.
Lakewood is a community theatre, and as such, the actors are primarily comprised of students and new actors. The level of experience showed occasionally. Actors occasionally played in profile, or perhaps spoke a bit too fast, but these are small details that will no doubt be ironed out. Overall, these young performers displayed a great deal of promise and talent. I cannot wait to see where they go from here. This is why I love community theatre. Groups like Lakewood are vital for giving new actors the opportunities and training they need to grow and become great.
I had a great time at She Kills Monsters. I laughed a great deal and left the theatre having had an enjoyable, thought provoking experience. If you like 90’s nostalgia and having a good time, I would strongly encourage you to go out, and support Nashville’s artists by seeing this charming play.