The Browncoat Pub and Theatre’s season of Amazing Wonder Stories continues with the brilliant “She Kills Monsters” by Qui Nguyen. Directed by Nick Smith, this lovely script comes to life for a fleeting moment in time to remind us that, in the end, moments with each other really are all we have.
Brendan Carter narrates our story about two sisters 10 years apart in age: Agnes (Eleanor Stafford) and Tilly (Clare Glenn). When Tilly and their parents are suddenly killed in a car accident, Agnes must not only address the painful situation of clearing out the family home but also find a path through her grief. She discovers a battered spiral-bound notebook of Tilly’s, filled with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
Clearly, Stafford is the veteran performer onstage, and her descent into the landscape of grief is nuanced, palpable and aching. Her boyfriend, Miles (Phill Antonino), suggests if she wants to know more about her sister, maybe she should try talking to her. His moment of mustering up the courage to say this to Agnes, and the longing in his voice, is mesmerizing—in the way that the couple lets the suggestion hang between them.
Eventually, Agnes makes her way to Chuck (Andrew Liguori), a local Dungeon Master, who agrees to help her role-play Tilly’s campaign. Liguori really pulls out a great nerdy, insecure teenager who’s trying hard to impress an older, pretty woman. After much hemming and hawing, he and Agnes begin the adventure.
Finally, we meet Tilly, who in NewLandia, the world she created for this campaign, is a respected warrior traveling in the company of Kaliope (Kenyatta Sanford)—a knife-wielding elf and Lillith (Lynn Gorges) a demonic Valkyrie warrior princess gone AWOL. They discover a variety of fabulous creatures on their adventures, including the slacker King of the Underworld, Orcus (Jon Armke), and possibly the show-stealing angry fairy from hell, Farrah, voiced by Andi Angel (responding to assumptions that fairies are nice: “Did I say I was Canadian?”). Chris Lewis as Steve and adventurer/dragon-slayer/warrior provides much needed comedic and tension relief in every cameo he makes. Lewis is so determined and joyful in all his attempts to fulfill his quest that the audience hopes for success to be his.
And then there is battle cheerleader succubi, Evil Tina (Jordan Mullaney), and Evil Gabbi (Meredith Stanton). That’s not really a stretch, though, is it? Mean-girl cheerleaders who suck the joy and will to live from lesser beings? It’s a pretty obvious bridge from life in high school to the fantasy world—and it’s one that Vera (Lily Nicole), Agnes’ best friend (the alcoholic, disappointed school guidance counselor), is worried she will forget in order to come back from.
This is Dungeons and Dragons, so there must be a dragon, right? Smith and the design team of Aaron Willings, Jon Armke, Mark McCoy, and Blake Howard manage to pull off some wonderful effects in a very small and unaccommodating space. The multi-headed dragon has glowing eyes and biting teeth, and there’s also a gelatinous cube that eats people! But, as Smith points out in his director’s note, this isn’t just a show about a role-playing game. At its heart is a show about wanting a little more time to spend with someone lost. At its soul is the process of coming to terms with wasted time—time that could have been spent with the loved one during her life. The cast makes it real. Stafford’s dawning realization and painful journey are authentic in every way. Glenn’s brooding, disgusted, teenager who feels isolated and ignored is well-crafted, not too dramatic and over-the-top, not too emotive. She’s a good balance between someone who wants her older sister’s attention and is scared of having her secrets found out. These two really meet each other head on; though Stafford is the veteran, she doesn’t pull back or dumb down her performance, and at each turn Glenn meets her.
Nguyen uses the conceits of role-playing games as a vehicle for Tilly to tell her story, and share her world with people who otherwise would not understand. The writing and dialogue are really excellent, and the journey that Agnes takes unfolds organically but with all the intensity that her teenage guides live within each moment. And in the heightened space that grief exists, they still manage to laugh.
“There is not a weak performance!” my date exclaimed afterward. “Everyone was fabulous!”
He’s right; it is a great ensemble show, with a wonderful cast. They have taken a well-written script and made it pop into life. Go see this show; it really merits an audience. The whole range of human emotions will fulflill one evening: laughter, tears, fear, joy, passion, and delight—it is all there. On their quest for the perfect show, Browncoat has won this battle.
She Kills Monsters
August 27-30, Sept. 3-6,
8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 5 p.m.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St.