Produced by: Renegade Theatre Experiment
Featuring: Mandy Armes, Hannah Becker, Kendall Callaghan, Orianna Hilliard, Monica Ho, Drew B. Jones, Cindy Powell, Alex Prather, Vera Sloan, Rory Strahan-Mauk and Max Tachis
Directed by: Susannah Greenwood, Sean Murphy
When: November 16-December 7, 2013. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. "Recommended for ages 18 and up."
Where: Historic Hoover Theatre, 1635 Park Avenue, San Jose, California.
Tickets:$25 (discounts available). Visit www.renegadetheatre.com.
this way comes
is a delight at Renegade Theatre Experiment
"She Kills Monsters" by Qui Nguyen is such a surprise.
At first it seems almost goofy, a tale of Dungeons and Dragons, filled with nerdy kids playing the seminal role-playing game. The stage is filled with brave heroines and elves and monsters, and everybody's having a great time with swords and magic.
But it evolves into something deep and meaningful, and we leave the theater both thoroughly entertained and deeply touched.
The play premiered in New York in 2011, played at Steppenwolf in Chicago and at Company One in Boston, and is making its West Coast debut at Renegade Theatre Experiment in San Jose.
It's wonderful. Go see it.
Beautiful Orianna Hilliard, towering on high-heeled boots and intoning a haughty British accent, opens as the narrator. Telling us this is not the story of this person and not the story of that person.
It's amusing. Just go with it.
It is the story, more or less, of Agnes (played by Mandy Armes), a 25-year-old schoolteacher who lost her entire family in a car crash. While packing up her family's house in Ohio so she can move in with her boyfriend, she finds her 15-year-old sister Tilly's Dungeons and Dragons notebook. (This is 1995, so, ya know, it's actual paper.)
She takes the notebook to a high school kid, Chuck (played with wit and emotional appeal by Max Tachis), and browbeats him into becoming Dungeon Master, so she can play the game story her sister wrote.
And the game begins to unfold immediately, with a dominatrix, flesh-eating warrior, Lillith (Monica Ho), and a warrior elf, Kalliope (Cindy Powell).
And Agnes' dead sister, Tilly (Kendall Callaghan) that is, Tillius the Paladin, healer of the wounded and the protector of lights.
At first Agnes is kind of freaked out by everything about the game she herself was into "normal" things pop music and boys and doesn't understand her little sister's interest in this geeky game.
But she wants to make up for lost time. She wants to get to know the little sister she never took the time to know, and thinks she may find her in the game her sister wrote.
"Welcome to the Quest for the Lost Soul of Athens," Chuck the Dungeon Master reads from Tilly's story. "Your mission is find and free the Lost Soul before it is devoured by the dark forces of darkness forever."
Which is to say, her mission is to learn about her sister, the one who died in the car crash.
And learn she does, including some surprises that rock her to her socks.
Along the way we get to see lots of sword fights and heroics of every kind, in the fantasy world, and more subtly, in the real world, as Agnes discovers the ties between what Tilly wrote and what Tilly lived.
Most of the cast at least doubles up on roles Hannah Becker, with very scary mouth makeup is Evil Gabbi, and also a cheerleader in "real" life. Hilliard is the narrator, Evil Tina (fantasy and real) and Farrah the Faerie.
To explain all the doubles would be giving away too much. Go be surprised.
Armes does well in taking her character through her personal quest, being challenged and scared by what she finds, but carrying on anyway, out of a love for her dead sister she'd barely known.
Drew B. Jones is pretty funny as the red-faced, horned Orcus, who'd maybe rather watch TV than go on another D&D adventure.
Overall, most of the performances were uneven, which can only be partly explained by the odd nature of playing geeky teens in a role-playing game. Every cast member had moments of excellence, when they were truly in their parts; some of them had moments when they were just reciting lines and going through motions.
Still, overall, a wonderful, funny, touching show, directed by Susannah Greenwood and Sean Murphy. Costumes by Annie Dauber were quite fun although neither Kalliope or Lillith are really showing as much skin as is called for in the script. Tanya Finkelstein's monsters were hilarious.
And the dancing and the fighting were very well done, by dance choreographers Sonya Duffin and Evangeline Maynard, and fight choreographer Michael Daw.
I was annoyed by a couple of the entries in "Meet the artists" section of the program, from people who apparently didn't take it seriously, which seems like a show of disrespect to those who did.
Watch your step on your way out. There was stage blood (or something) on the floor between the stage and the seats after the final bows.