A bold, hilarious take on Dungeons & Dragons

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By Doug Deuchler

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We don't often get a chance to cover the dramatic productions of Oak Park & River Forest High School on these pages, but currently there is a fascinating and unique show playing in the Little Theater that deserves attention. She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen is both hilarious and bold as it takes us along on an unusual "trip" into the world of the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons.

Perhaps having some rudimentary familiarity with Dungeons & Dragons might be beneficial, but the game did not exist back in the ancient era in which I grew up. Fortunately, you don't have to be a gamer to follow what is going on or to enjoy the show.

Whenever I have encountered characters who are geeks, nerds or dorks in the media or on stage they are invariably guys. It was fascinating to experience this story with so many prominent young women characters.

Director James Bell told me, "Previously I'd enjoyed directing Shakespeare but there are never a lot of roles for teenagers, especially those with issues or personal conflicts. I am excited that we are presenting many marginalized voices and giving them center stage here. This play, for instance, features an assortment of LGBQ characters and one young person with cerebral palsy." Bell, an OPRF English teacher, directs the production with humor and imagination.

The play, set in Ohio in 1995, is fascinated with pop culture and music from that decade.

In a prologue that seems too rushed, we quickly learn that a young girl named Tilly Evans (Marissa Kuriakos) and her parents have been killed in a car wreck.

Tilly's older sister, Agnes (Isabelle Meyer) seems to have never been close to her but now the deceased girl's sibling seeks to discover the sister she never knew who was passionate about playing Dungeons & Dragons. Agnes enlists a local uber nerd, a "dungeon master" named Chuck (Greg Hann), to help her focus and understand by playing a game module Tilly had created in a notebook.

What unfolds is exciting and often quite funny. It's almost as if Agnes is reading her younger sister's diary.

There are choreographed sword fights, spells, monsters, and demons. Agnes explores the unknown world in an attempt to get to know her sister better. On her perilous journey, she comes to understand and appreciate Tilly's strength, wit and warmth, as well as her sexuality. Tilly was an openly gay and a proud young girl who took refuge in the role-playing world of the fantasy game. Agnes comes to grip with her grief during her bizarre and often harrowing adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly's refuge.

Tilly engages in a series of conflicts and battles with an assortment of beasts, dominatrix warrior women, and malicious monsters. There is a pair of mean girl cheerleaders, Evil Tina (Layla Conner) and Evil Gabbi (Lily Hoke), and there is a demon queen called Lilith (Sonia Zartman) who was Tilly's powerful girlfriend. There's a horned bad boy named Orcus (Archer Ackerman) who is the overlord of the underworld. Tough Kaliope (Sam Theis) is disabled in her real life.

The production team vividly presents the Dungeons & Dragons world. The scenic design is by Chris Scholtens. The remarkable costumes are by Jeffrey G. Kelly, with make-up and hair design by Patricia A. Cheney. There is an amazing five-headed dragon who is on stage for less than a minute. The fight choreographer is Delia Ford, and the dance choreographer is Jen Kanwischer. Lighting is by Teslen Sadowski. Lucien DeJule is the stage manager. 

I applaud OPRF and its drama department for not shying away from material featuring the inclusion of teens of all sexualities.

Ultimately, She Kills Monsters is a sweet tale of loss and acceptance as well as the fulfillment provided by friendship and relationships. It's both thrilling and funny.

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Gigi Hoke from River Forest  

Posted: May 15th, 2019 10:40 AM

Thank you for your insightful and positive review. "She Kills Monsters" is a remarkable, timely and captivating show, with a cast of extremely talented OPRF students. If the prologue seemed rushed, it might be out of sensitivity to the recent and devastating fatal auto accident that involved an OPRF student and a friend to many cast members. It's my understanding that Mr. Bell edited the prologue and car accident portion of the show so as not to negatively impact his cast and audience.

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