Review: ‘She Kills Monsters’ Tackles Grief and Storytelling

The final battle scene, Agnes, played by Aurelia Grierson, battles the dragon: Tiamat.

Having closed Sunday Night, Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters sold out for the entirety of its two week run time. This play took the audience into a fantasy world, run by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons with all of the fun and emotion that comes with popular game. It was also the first production held in the newly-renovated Black Box Theatre.

Wren Eustice, a succubus cheer leader, dances on stage during her scene.

The show’s lead, Aurelia Grierson, had a close connection with her character Agnes. In a post to her Facebook page, she explained grief as being complex and manifesting in ways people might not expect. “When we lose someone important to us, we enter a big house with many rooms of which there is seemingly no way out,” read the post. Having lost her father at eight, Grierson is not a stranger to grief. “Grief encapsulates so many other emotions and it lasts a lifetime,” she said. “She Kills Monsters is a play that shows grief for what it really is: halting, funny, devastating, joyful, every feeling in the book in the shadow of someone you miss. It reminded me that stories, and the narratives we leave behind allow us all to make peace in the many-roomed house; how loving and losing are all apart of the same story; how they are both the adventure.”

Though the actress had never played DnD (Dungeons and Dragons),before, she genuinely enjoyed inhabiting the world of magic and adventure— especially when it came to stage combat.  “My favorite part of working on this production was the combat. Jon Toppo worked closely with the cast to not only teach us fights, but how to fight like our characters. For example, Tilly is really agile with a sword, Lilith the Demon Queen swings hard and heavy with her axe, and Kaliope the Elf uses her fighting staff in a way that almost imitates wind and water. It was neat to link fighting and storytelling, and it’s also incredibly fun,” said Grierson.

The cast and crew of “She Kills Monsters”

Sophie Block,  scenic designer found Qui Nguyen’s work open to interpretation. For the most part, Qui Nguyen’s work is pretty open to interpretation. “I really enjoyed the nostalgia surrounding the world of Dungeons and Dragons. So many people grew up playing these adventures, and I wanted to give them something familiar that would really transport them back into this world,” said Block. “The stylized graph paper that served as the main feature of the set was inspired by my research of maps from homespun modules. I wanted something that would extend out into the audience and physically bring them into this world.”

[Right to left] Hannah Fawcett, Martha Jeannette Thatcher, and Rachel Routh pose as their characters.
The 80 minute performance borrowed music and sound effects from the 90’s era. The music, coupled with fight scenes and magic throughout allowed for sound opportunities for production Sound Designer, Nick Canepa. “Video games are very much inspired by DnD, so I drew a lot from early 90’s video games, and futzed around with them a lot, to incorporate [the music] in the show,” Canepa said about his inspirations. “For instance we used the pokemon theme, but [brought] it to a much more orchestral level, instead of video-gamey sounds.”  Canepa continued, “Being a 90’s show, it was really fun having a modern-ish piece that you get to use music you like [and] was enjoyable to do research on it.”

[Right to left] Jake Raider, Wren Eustice, Torrin Kelly, Quinci Freeman-Lytle, and Delaney Barbour dance battle the heroes in a game of Dungeons and Dragons.
Jackie Apodaca, co-chair of the theatre department and the play’s director began the directing process first by learning the nuanced rules of the game. “I played [a] short round of Dungeons and Dragons, DM’d by my 10 year old son,” Apodaca said. “Honestly, I had a similar ​reaction ​to Agnes when she first plays in [the] show, ‘All we do is walk around and talk to things.’ I think we spent two hours shopping for supplies!”

Her breakthrough came with the realization that the play is not just about a young woman learning to play a game traditionally played by nerds. “I realized that the show uses D and D as a launch point to talk about stories, games, human nature and that I didn’t need to perfect my D and D I.Q. to understand what the show was really about,” the direction said.

“Our mutual love for nerds, geeks, fantasy, [and] RPGs opened a door for our collaboration to be free and joyous,” she concluded. “I have rarely experienced ​such a creative, free, [and] fun rehearsal room. I am grateful to each person who worked on this show.”

Last Thursday, inclement weather cancelled  the performance.The Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU Box Office operates by a “no ticket refund” policy, as is the standard in the industry, but those who had purchased tickets for Thursday’s show will receive a free ticket to a future performance.

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