Rules of the game She Kills Mon­sters, a play by Qui Nguyen

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

Agnes Evans lost both of her par­ents and her younger si ster, Tilly, in a car crash. In the years since their deaths, she’s been liv­ing in her child­hood home with t heir be­long­ings, and teach­ing at her old high school among Tilly’s for­mer class­mates. But now Agnes’ boyfriend has asked her to move in with him, and she must clean out the house. In Tilly’s room she finds a note­book with in­for­ma­tion about Dun­geons & Dragons, so she vis­its a role-play­ing game store and asks the kid at the counter, Chuck, to ex­plain it to her. And that’s where Agnes’ ad­ven­ture be­gins in She Kills Mon­sters, a play by Qui Nguyen, di­rected by Mal­com Mor­gan, open­ing at the Santa Fe Play­house on Fri­day, May 6.

The plot of She Kills Mon­sters is sim­ple: In or­der to get to know her sis­ter bet­ter, Agnes plays D&D with Chuck and a group of Tilly’s friends. Agnes dis­cov­ers who Tilly — known as Til­lius in the game — was, a girl with se­crets and dreams, rather than the younger sis­ter she took for granted. And she kills a few fic­tional mon­sters along the way. The play moves back and forth between fan­tasy and re­al­ity, of­ten rest­ing some­where in between. The quick scene changes and vague stage di­rec­tion of the script — for in­stance, “an elab­o­rate and bad-ass fight en­sues” — de­mand tremen­dous skill to lift the pro­duc­tion out of po­ten­tial chaos. Ch­eryl Odom, well known from her ten­ure at the Greer Gar­son Theatre at the Col­lege of Santa Fe and now Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign, is de­sign­ing the cos­tumes. Vaughn Irv­ing, artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Santa Fe Play­house, put his back­ground in stage com­bat to use train­ing the ac­tors how to fight safely. Mor­gan said light­ing, pro­jected set­tings, and stage set-up are all key to mak­ing the move­ment between worlds un­der­stand­able.

“There’s an in­ter­est­ing as­pect to the the­atri­cal­ity of the show,” Irv­ing said. “It reads on the page like a screen­play. Our main char­ac­ter will be in the real world hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion, then turn around and be in the game, and then turn back and be in the real world again. It can trick you, but in re­hearsals, I’ve bought in with­out even hav­ing the light­ing. It’s that magic of theater, that will­ful sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief.”

Most of the ac­tors are stu­dents at Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign,g, and many of them were al­ready

The play moves back and forth between fan­tasy and re­al­ity, of­ten rest­ing some­where in between.

avid D&D play­ers. Mor­gan, who grad­u­ated from SFUAD in 2013 and now works in the school’s ad­mis­sions of­fice, ac­tively sought stu­dents from cam­pus to fill his cast of young char­ac­ters. He had never played Dun­geons & Dragons, but through the re­hearsal process, he’s been ini­ti­ated. He took pho­tos and watched the cast play a game, and by the end he was itch­ing to re­ally par­tic­i­pate. “It was like act­ing, but in a game — cre­at­ing your own magic and mon­sters and just be­ing re­ally log­i­cal about things. The roll of the dice can change things in a heart­beat. While we were there, it didn’t seem like time passed. Three hours went by, and it felt like 30 min­utes.”

Mor­gan held auditions for She Kills Mon­sters in the way he was taught at SFUAD. In­stead of the Play­house’s usual ca­sual ap­proach of hav­ing ac­tors in an open call read pages from the play, he re­quired ev­ery­one to come pre­pared with a head­shot, ré­sumé, and a short, comedic mono­logue al­ready com­mit­ted to mem­ory. “I wanted to see what peo­ple look like when they think they’re pol­ished. I would then give them a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion and then have them do it again, to see their ver­sa­til­ity. Can they take di­rec­tion and run with it? I wanted to see that will­ing­ness.”

Sara Jack­son, who plays Tilly, de­scribed her char­ac­ter as a fif­teen-yearold clos­eted les­bian, very much into nerd cul­ture. “Be­cause of that, she gets bul­lied a lot at school. She has friends in the game, but I don’t think she would have made those friends with­out it. Tilly is dead in real life,” she added, “so it’s not clear that Tilly is Tilly, be­cause Chuck plays Tilly, and that’s all in Agnes’ mind. And some­times Tilly is Til­lius.”

One char­ac­ter, Steve, played by Douglas Smith, is a mage in the game, and shows up sev­eral times only to im­me­di­ately die. Smith, who con­sid­ers Dun­geons & Dragons one of the big­gest parts of his life, brings an im­pres­sive au­then­tic­ity to his role. “Steve is this stereo­typ­i­cally nerdy kid. He’s in march­ing band, re­ally fo­cused on col­lege even though, I’m guess­ing, he’s a fresh­man. In the game his char­ac­ter is re­ally flashy and out there. He wants to be known. I think that stems from be­ing pushed to the back­ground in real life. He rolls ter­ri­bly though. He dies four times. I’ve been in mul­ti­ple D&D games, and I’ve never seen rolls like that.” He went on to ex­plain that for the most part, She Kills Mon­sters is re­al­is­tic, but he thinks the “be­holder” in the play’s game is killed too eas­ily, based on the like­li­hood of two peo­ple need­ing to get very spe­cific rolls of the dice. “Be­hold­ers — you run as fast as you can the other way. They are ter­ri­fy­ing, hellish beasts.”

Like her char­ac­ter, Agnes, Joey Beth Gil­bert had never played D&D, that is, un­til she started work­ing on the play. She said that Agnes had been avoid­ing re­al­ity since her par­ents and sis­ter died, but as the play be­gins, it is time for her to move on. “Once she has to face it, it’s all very raw, and that’s why emo­tions get so high between her and the other char­ac­ters, who re­ally knew Tilly.”

“Our pro­tag­o­nist is trav­el­ing through this world, dis­cov­er­ing lots of things about Dun­geons & Dragons along the way,” Irv­ing said. “The rea­son from a dra­matur­gi­cal per­spec­tive is be­cause the au­di­ence doesn’t need to know what D&D is be­fore they come to the theater. They can fol­low Agnes as she learns what the game is. It’s a beau­ti­ful story about fam­ily. It’s just told through the lens of Dun­geons & Dragons and nerd cul­ture. As a life­long nerd, it re­ally moves me. The fact that it also moves Mal­com, who was not a life­long nerd, is a great, telling thing about this play.”

The cast of She Kills Mon­sters: Me­gan Kelly, Joey Beth Gil­bert, Ju­lia Rocke, Douglas Smith, Niko’a Salas, Sara Jack­son, Danette Sills, Dy­lan Salewski, and Devyn Wil­liams; photo Lynn Roy­lance

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.