Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's She Kills Monsters

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called She Kills Monsters. It was by Qui Nguyen and it was directed by Angela Forshee. It was about a teacher named Agnes (Hilary Griffin) whose family had all died in a car crash. She was clearing out their house when she found her younger sister Tilly's (Jillian Leff) Dungeons and Dragons notebook. And Agnes felt like she hadn't been close enough to her sister in real life, so now she wanted to find out more about what Tilly had loved. And she asks this teenage boy, Chuck (Matthew Torres), to be her dungeon master and he agrees. They start to play in Tilly's world and Agnes starts to get to know more of Tilly's secrets. It is about sibling relationships, nerdery, and mourning. I thought this show was hilarious, surprisingly heartfelt, and it had a mix of badass and ridiculous fights (by fight director Kai Young), which I loved.

This show has a lot of great characters that make you feel like you are in a video game. Dungeons and Dragons is not a video game, but role playing games really influenced video games. Lilith (Erika Lebby) was the demon daughter of the devil and she was the girlfriend of Tillius (Tilly's character) in the game. Tilly has made her this sexy demon queen with not a lot of clothing on. And what clothing she has is mostly leather and fishnet. She had the best opening line I've ever heard which is, "Violence makes me hot." It is very common in video games to show as much cleavage and have the least sensible outfit to kill someone in as possible. Those characters are usually created by men. But in this case it is a young woman who has created it. It is weirdly empowering because women don't usually get to choose how their gender is sexualized. Tilly is doing it for her own pleasure, but it is still different because it is still breaking a gender and sexuality barrier. Kaliope (Ari Kraiman) is an elf and she is pretty badass. She doesn't feel emotions in the same way as humans do. A lot of the humor that comes from her character is watching her cluelessness about how human emotions and language work. Like when they give Agnes her D&D name, Agnes the Ass-hatted, Kaliope doesn't seem to notice the hilarity of the name because she just sits there straight-faced. I think it is a really cool contrast how clueless she is but how badass she is because she can literally whip out a bow and arrow and kill ten people but she can't understand why ass-hat is such a funny word. Orcus (Zach Tabor) was the Overlord of the Underworld who kind of didn't want to go on the adventure in the first place, but was forced to go along. He also had an obsession with TV shows, like Friends and Quantum Leap, which he is mad about missing. I think he is hilarious because he is overly specific about the reasons why Quantum Leap is so good. I loved the specificity of these characters. Even though at first they seem like stereotypical fantasy characters, they actually have a lot of fun quirks and recognizable problems.

This show had so many hilarious moments. One of the most surprising and funny characters in the entire show was Farrah (Elisabeth Del Toro), a tiny, cruel, badass fairy. When the group of adventurers wanted to pass through her territory, she was not too keen on that and she basically goes maniac on them and tries to slice them up with two swords. It is funny because it is very surprising to see this sweet little fairy go berserker and spout obscenities at them. Evil Gabbi (Liz Lengyel) and Evil Tina (Keyanna Khatiblou) were the homophobic mean girls at Tilly's school, but also demons in her D&D world. Basically they just manipulated and yelled at the adventurers, but they would occasionally use the Force too. They have this dance battle instead of actually fighting. And, surprisingly, the adventurers had already choreographed a dance and Agnes could suddenly do backflips. Gabbi and Tina did a dance that was mainly strutting and you could see that they could kind of tell they were losing at moments, which produced some of the best facial expressions. Steve (Michael Saubert Jr.) is a random guy who keeps showing up and getting defeated in the most pathetic ways possible by monsters even though he enters with as much gusto as a drag performer called Miss Gusto Wind. Each time he walked in, you knew something terrible was going to happen to him, and it was hilarious every time because each way he got killed was so original and sad.

I think this show has a really powerful message as well. It is all about mourning and figuring out how to deal with your decisions and regrets. Agnes gets to meet the versions of Tilly's characters as Tilly's actual friends and enemies in real life. And it is really interesting and sad because you see the people mourning Tilly, but you have just seen her alive in the game. It is really heartbreaking. You see how Agnes' obsession with the game is damaging parts of her real-life relationships, like with her boyfriend Miles (Graham Carlson) and her friend Vera (Lakecia Harris). But it also brings her closer to those people once they understand what she is actually doing. Grief is something that can separate people but also bring them closer together. And I think this play really shows that relationship well.

People who would like this show are people who like swearing fairies, nerding out, and unexpected backflips. I think this is a really moving, nerdy, and very funny show. I think that it has so many talented performers who worked well with the beautiful but ridiculous script.

Photos: Candice Lee Conner

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