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STAGING COSPLAY: ‘She Kills Monsters’ brings the world of D&D to life, with a beating heart

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“She Kills Monsters” takes viewers into the world of the table-top role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Though colorfully imaginative, it contains emotionally powerful storytelling.

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Browncoat Pub and Theatre has focused their 2015 season on “Amazing Wonder Stories,” featuring a mix of locally written plays and other published works that fit into their vibe of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. Starting this week they’ll debut “She Kills Monsters,” which won the 2013 AATE Distinguished Play Award, written by Qui Nguyen. Director Nick Smith (who’s also transitioning into artistic director at Browncoat) found the production after a friend in Athens, GA, produced it for Town and Gown Players.

shekills“She sent me the script, and I fell in love with it immediately,” he says. “I don’t know if there’s any other show that’s a more perfect fit for the Browncoat stage—at least in terms of Browncoat’s reputation as a geek haven. Swords, sorcery, dragons, monsters … that’s almost what we exist to present, right?”

“She Kills Monsters” takes viewers into the world of the table-top role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Though colorfully imaginative, it contains emotionally powerful storytelling, centered around the protagonist, Agnes, who must come to terms with her teenage sister’s death. Agnes comes across her sister’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook, which leads her into a world of refuge and self-discovery, complete with action-packed adventure and a lot of comedy. The show not only contains fairies and ogres, but it also works in ‘90s pop culture.

“It’s my favorite kind of script,” Smith tells, “the one that will thrill you one moment, make you laugh hysterically the next, then force out the Kleenexes before it’s over.”

Playing Agnes is Eleanor Stafford, as suggested to the director from local actress Susan Auten. According to Smith, Stafford’s Agnes walks the fine line of being skeptical of the role-playing in the Dungeons and Dragons world and being intrigued by it all at once. Claire Glenn plays Agnes’ sister, Tilly. “Claire has more emotional maturity and insight at 17 than most 30-year-olds I know,” Smith hails.

“Tilly is this annoying little-sister type character, but to my surprise she turns out to understand more about friendship and human nature than she first lets on,” Glenn tells. “I’ve learned from playing Tilly that outward looks and actions don’t always dictate one’s true character.”

The characters crafted by playwright Nguyen get to the heart of family and the plights all humans face in life: losing loved ones, having regrets about truly knowing our families, and creating our own families beyond genetics. Sibling rivalries will be recognizable, even if the elf rivalries are not.

“My favorite scene is actually when Tilly is bickering with her older sister, Agnes, and begins to mimic her every word,” Glenn notes. “I love the sister dynamic and playing that up; it’s hilarious and reminds me of fights I’ve had with my own two sisters.”

“Everyone can relate to it,” Smith includes. “It has a big ol’ beating heart at its core, and I think it’ll speak to anyone who’s ever felt lost, alone or struggled with being an outcast. The play shows your life can be just as big an adventure as anyone else’s.”

To bring the magic of Dungeons and Dragons to life, Smith has enlisted the help of Aaron Willings with set design. Though somewhat minimal, the movement between the real and fantasy worlds will be evident, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. “Pippin Calame, who is famous on the con circuit for her cosplay, is working on the costumes and coming up with some ridiculously cool designs—and on a tight budget, which to me is even more impressive,” Smith tells.

And as its moniker suggests, monsters will be present—four of them, in fact: Farrah the Fairy, Miles the Gelatinous Cube, the Beholder, and Tiamat, a five-headed dragon. Smith has film prop master Mark McCoy working on “the Cube” and “the Beholder,” the latter of which is a giant eyeball with teeth. 

“Jon Armke, who’s also in the show as Orcus, is building the Tiamat, and I’m very excited at the quality of work he’s doing,” Smith explains. “It’s exceeded every expectation I’ve had.”

She Kills Monsters
August 20-23, 27-30, Sept. 3-6,
8 p.m.; Sun. matinees, 5 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$20
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace St.

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