Storytelling with Humility, Humanity, and Humor
By Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell
Dungeons and Dragons usually conjures up pictures of nerdy teenagers sitting in basements, eating snacks, and rolling dice. Perhaps the kids are wearing wizard hats, capes, even cheap costumes. “She Kills Monsters,” King’s High School’s current play, drives a sword right through that stereotype. Dungeons and Dragons is presented as not simply a game, but a masterpiece crafted in the minds of geeks and brought to life beyond a grimy basement, a few dice, and a bowl of pretzels.
At each rehearsal, cast members are encouraged to act far beyond their own comfort zones to create characters out of monsters they never could have envisioned: evil tigers, bugbears, drow elves, and warrior demons. The monsters of “She Kills Monsters” incorporate magical intricacies usually not needed for a show. Trinity Acree, a student playing a Tiger in the show says that, “Playing non-human characters gives every actor a chance to create a character, and that’s something that does not happen in every show. It gives each person individuality in the creative process.” In addition to acting monstrous, the cast must learn how to actually fight like a monster. They have to practice and perfect fight choreography, one of the most challenging and different aspects of the show. Students use real weapons and make the fights safe yet realistic, quite a paradoxical requirement. It’s a challenging yet rewarding task.
However, the most prominent reason “She Kills Monsters” is so different from anything ever seen on the Kings High School stage is the story itself. The show follows Agnes Evans, a young woman, who loses herself in grief, and in the game of Dungeons and Dragons. After losing her sister, Tilly, in a car crash, Agnes attempts to cope with her despair in a rather odd way: she plays Tilly’s game.
While on her journey, Agnes comes to many realizations regarding Tilly’s personality. In particular, Agnes is astounded by Tilly’s grit and resilience. Jess Harmon, the actress playing Tilly, describes her as a character with immense strength. “Tilly shows me that people can have unimaginable inner strength, despite how they may seem to others. Tilly gives me power, and I hope she can give others the same.” In a way, Tilly gave this strength to Agnes throughout the show. Agnes navigates her relationship with Tilly, but more importantly, with herself. “She Kills Monsters” is a story about losing control, fighting your demons (physically and mentally), and recognizing your faults.
Exceeding the emotional aspects of the show, “She Kills Monsters” has its fair share of humorous moments. Pete Moore, director of “She Kills Monsters,” appreciates and emphasizes the humor in the play, especially when it comes to the monsters. “In a way,” says Moore, “when characters are so out of this world, you can make them a lot bigger, a lot more stylized, and just larger than life…It really frees you up, kind of lets you cheat a bit.” He also describes how liberating it is to have characters who don’t necessarily need to be studied. They don’t have any deep emotional conflict to sort out. For most of the monsters, their lives revolve around killing and eating. In a sense, they represent the humor that contrasts with the more developed characters and makes the show enjoyable.
But when the humor fades and the story intensifies, the dramatic aspects of the show take over. A lot of the heart behind “She Kills Monsters” comes from the relationships between the complex and deeply nuanced characters in the show. Moore describes the balance in the show as having “some characters who are really deep, really well-developed, have profound discoveries about themselves. The other characters around them move them towards those discoveries .” This balance between character types is what creates harmony between humor and humanity in the show. Although the show is filled with comedy, the audience will also get to feel Agnes’s pain as she grapples with her despair and attempts to bring closure to her relationship with her sister, Tilly.
The intricate relationship between the sisters is the focal point of the show. Tilly and Agnes have trouble understanding each other; at least, that’s the version of Tilly that Agnes has created in her mind. Upon finding out Tilly’s sexual orientation, Agnes has a mental breakdown. She feels she has never truly known her sister and it boggles her mind that she never even knew Tilly was gay. The fact that Tilly, among many characters in the show, is gay normalizes all orientations in the theatre. Jess Harmon finds the representation crucial for the LGBT community. “It’s important to have people for young people in the LGBT community to relate to. When gay people are shown in the arts or media, it makes it easier for kids in the community to feel comfortable in their own skin. Still, we don’t dwell on the fact that people are gay in the show. That’s only part of who they are and what they bring to the production.”
The meaning of the show goes far beyond sexual orientation. Assistant stage manager Kevin Lewis depicts the show as simply an outlet not only for Agnes, but for the audience too. “People are given a chance to step out of reality and enjoy a realm unlike anything they’ve ever experienced,” he says. That’s what all of us really need sometimes, and that’s what storytelling is truly about.