Playwright Qui Nguyen adapted her acclaimed contemporary drama She Kills Monsters for online performances. It’s an appealing, emotionally-engaging story of an older sister getting to know her late sister through fantasy role-playing. This month First Stage presents a production of the drama. Though the script was designed for live online performances on videoconferencing platforms, First Stage has developed a really sharp pre-produced presentation of the show featuring an all-kid cast including brief semi-animated segments and cool synthesizer music cues. Recommended for kids in high school or older, the drama is a tightly-produced, entertaining, little hour.
Maggie Stubbs reaches into some very deep emotional territory as Agnes--a girl who is curious about her late sister. She discovers a Dungeons and Dragons adventure that her sister had been writing at the time of her death. Unfamiliar with the game, Agnes contacts Chuck: someone familiar with the game who serves as her game master (played by Max Larson.) Heading into the adventure, Agnes is surprised to find out that her sister Tilly is there in the form of Tillius the Level 20 Paladin. Maya Thomure shows heroically tender nuance as Tillius/Tilly. The adventure is a quest to find Tillius’ soul, which has fallen into the possession of the immortal five-headed dragon Tiamat. Tillius leads Agnes into a sword-and-sorcery gaze into the psyche of her younger sister. Charles Elliott lends a compassionate confusion to the cast in the role of Agnes’s boyfriend Miles who is trying to understand the importance of her search for her sister.
Director Coltyn Giltner has done a good job of getting an all-kid cast together for dramatic complexity in a series of scenes that had been pieced together from single-camera shots of individual actors. It’s difficult enough for any seasoned actor to deliver real emotional dialogue alone directly into a camera. More than merely managing this challenge, Giltner fosters an environment that brings out some really compelling performances from a rather sophisticated ensemble of characters that represent aspects of a late girl’s psyche. The action of the drama can be a bit awkward in places, but the dramatic rhythm of the story is maintained from beginning to end. Aggression, love and a range of different emotions are modulated quite vividly by a cast of young actors.
Costuming is limited. Just enough to suggest an elf, a paladin, a demon, a couple of cheerleader/succubi and a few other elements that come into play in the course of the story. Backgrounds are simple and domestic. Nguyen’s distinct mix of high school drama and fantasy adventure plays out in an enjoyably compelling hour and 12 minutes of video. The mix in the script is a little clumsy at times. Some of what Nguyen is exploring claws its way at the fantasy setting in a way that feels a bit disingenuous. The script doesn’t really engage with D&D in a way that really embraces its complexity. Giltner and company pull the script out of stiff sentimentality throughout...firmly rooting the drama in organic, heartfelt emotion.
First Stage’s production of She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms is available through Nov. 22nd online. For more information, visit First Stage online.