BWW Review: SHE KILLS MONSTERS lands a crit at Theatre Baton Rouge

BWW Review: SHE KILLS MONSTERS lands a crit at Theatre Baton Rouge

Too often, narratives in geek culture focus on the guys. It fits with the stereotype of what geeks are considered to be. Just some guy covered in Cheeto dust, chugging back a Mountain Dew while locking himself up in his mother's basement to live out a fantasy quest where he defeats a dragon and gets the girl. But what about the girls who also want to save the day? This is at the heart of SHE KILLS MONSTERS, now running at Theatre Baton Rouge as part of their Turner-Fischer series.

Set in a small Ohio town in 1995, SHE KILLS MONSTERS by Qui Nguyen focuses on high school English teacher Agnes (Kendall Gibson) who lost her parents and little sister in a car accident. Agnes was never close to her nerdy sister, and in an attempt to get to know Tilly (Ashley Stevens) after her death, she visits a comic book store to ask local nerd Chuck (Bennett Cockerham) to run a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that Tilly wrote. While Agnes scoffs at the thought of playing D&D, she nonetheless delves into the fantasy world her sister created, populated with sexy demons, bloodthirsty fairies, and gelatinous shapeshifting cubes. When in the real world, Agnes meets the real-life counterparts of her fellow adventurers as well as those who tormented Tilly. Agnes gradually finds herself growing addicted to the game, learning new things about her sister with each roll of the dice.

Directed by Jason Breaux, SHE KILLS MONSTERS is a treat for lovers of geekdom and '90s nostalgia. In addition to the action-packed comedy, SHE KILLS MONSTERS also touches on the ever-present bullying of geeks and gamers and LGBTQ youth. For many, the fantasy world of role-playing games is more than just fun - it is also an escape from continuous hostility in the real world.

Gibson shows a vast range as Agnes. Like a fish out of water, she explores her sister's world to find herself seriously invested in the game while also struggling with the truths it reveals about Tilly. Agnes's loss is palpable, and Gibson demonstrates the grief realistically and intensely. Stevens as Tilly is perfection. Spunky and brave, Stevens displays a great deal of promise for future roles. Together one would believe Gibson and Stevens are actual sisters, warts and all. It makes the heart-warming moments between them that much more bittersweet. For as they reconcile, and reconnect we are reminded that Tilly is no longer in our world and once the game is over, she will be gone.

Rounding out the rest of the party is Makaylee Secrest as demon princess Lilith, Laine Farber as dark elf Kaliope, and Taylor Sinclair as slacker demon lord Orcus. Together, these three provide high comedy for SHE KILLS MONSTERS audiences, whether it be Kaliope's humorous deadpan delivery, Lilith's skill at tormenting Agnes or Orcus's raunchy nature. Reid Saari steals whichever scene he is in as the bumbling mage Steve. Cockerham is as Chuck is picturesque as a hooded dungeon master. As for the real world, we have stand out performances by Ben Ross as Miles, Agnes's boyfriend and Victoria Hill as Vera, a brassy school counselor. Both bring dimension and depth to their characters.

The production team for SHE KILLS MONSTERS brings the immersion of the two worlds to life to great effect. Director Jason Breaux's set design looks straight out of a classic dungeon crawl RPG complete with dragon claw marks and stone skulls. Wait for it when it comes to the final battle with Tiamat for the set helps bring the five-headed dragon to life in a delightful way.

Of particular note is Martin Sanchez's costume design, which is one of the best elements in the show. Character designs for the monsters, ranging from Bug Bears to Beholders, look straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons player's guide and will be instantly recognizable to D&D fans. While the fantasy costumes are quite fantastic, the real skill of Sanchez's costume design lies within the '90s costumes of the real-life characters. From flannel wrapped around the waist to sporting Green Day t-shirts, it seemed as if these characters stepped right out of the '90s of my memory.

Speaking of Green Day, the soundtrack played during the show is full of '90s grunge hits, keeping up with the period of the play. There is however a brief clip of the theme from 2017's Wonder Woman, which feels very out of place with the rest of the play's soundtrack. Pulling it all together is lighting design by Kathyrn Steele, which aided the shift the tone between fantasy and reality flawlessly.

But all of the spectacle would fall flat if not for the excellent fight and dance performances. Fight director Courtney McKay Murphy and dance choreographer Tony Collins use the limited space of TBR's Studio Theatre to great effect with flashy swordplay and sassy dance routines.

SHE KILLS MONSTERS is a great ode to geekery and girl power while also serving a heart-warming tale of sisterhood. Catch it this weekend at TBR.

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From This Author Tara Bennett

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