Before Netflix’s Stranger Things introduced unfamiliar audiences to the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons in 2016, playwright Qui Nguyen was using the game to tell a touching story of discovery and adventure in his 2012 play “She Kills Monsters.”
Agnes Evans (played by Cori Jarmer) is described as a perfectly average cheerleader, with average interests such as boys and popular television shows. On the other hand, her sister, Tilly (played by Mandy Meilbeck), is almost her polar opposite. She spends most of her time engrossed in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and playing with swords. The prologue sets the scene as a narrator (Andrea Lopez) describes Agnes’ frustration with her younger sister’s unpopularity. She wishes that she didn’t have such a geeky sister. Her wish comes true when Tilly is killed in a car accident. The play isn’t a tragedy though. Instead, it’s one of drama and comedy laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres and ‘90s pop culture as Agnes begins playing D&D to become closer to her sister.
Although the original play contains adult language, TheatriKids was able to purchase the rights for a “Young Adventurers’ Edition” of Nguyen’s unique story which, while keeping the general plot and emotions of the original, is set in high school rather than college to slightly tone down the mature themes.
“This is a little more edgy than we normally do in a TheatriKids production, but I’m glad that we’re getting the opportunity to bring this on the stage,” said director Joe Maniglia.
Performances of “She Kills Monsters” will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 9 and 10, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 11, at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse, 11 W. Cherry Ave. Tickets are $12 plus fees and can be purchased online at www.theatrikos.com, by calling 774-1662 or by visiting the box office two hours prior to each show.
A year after her sister’s death, Agnes finds one of Tilly’s D&D campaign notebooks where she kept track of where her party was in the game. She asks Dungeon Master Chuck (Dermot Louchart) for help understanding the notes and slowly becomes more involved in her sister’s fantasy world.
Theatrikos borrowed monster puppets used by Arizona State University’s theater department when they did a production of the play and “they’re really the icing on the cake,” Maniglia said.
In providing the visual aspect to choreographed fighting scenes as Agnes comes across various foes in the game, the puppets help audience members feel like they’re inside the game. There’s no need to have an understanding of the game to follow the main storyline though.
“It really has a wonderful story in the midst of the geek culture about friendship, about what it means to be on the inside, what it means to be on the outside,” Maniglia said.
Like all TheatriKids productions, the cast is made up of young actors from middle and high schools across Flagstaff. The opportunity to act in front of different audiences than those who would attend school plays gives the students more experience.
Maniglia, who has directed TheatriKids for the past eight years, said he enjoys how fearless the young actors tend to be in their roles.
“They’re willing to take chances and they have an interesting way of looking at the world,” he said. “I think of the way people are responding to the youth activism surrounding (the school shooting in) Parkland. In many respects that doesn’t surprise me because youth do have that optimism and they do have that drive and energy, and it does keep me on my toes.”