review: she kills monsters

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She Kills Monsters

by Qui Nguyen
Directed by Robert Ross Parker
Featuring Satomi Blair, Allison Buck, Nicky Schmidlein
Flea Theater, 41 White Street
November 4, 2011 — December 23, 2011
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 26, 2011

(L-R) Margaret Odette, Jack Corcoran, Allison Buck, Megha Nabe, Satomi Blair. Photo by Joan Marcus

Reading my bare-bones program for basic info (it’s all on line, it’s all smart phone accessible — The Flea goes green with a vengeance) before the action starts on a Saturday night in Tribeca, I note that two multiply-cast actors have “Succubus” listed as one of their roles.  I’m already enchanted.  The crowd is buzzing, the house is full to the rafters, the advance press tells me that this will be a riff on the role play medieval gaming world of “Dungeons and Dragons” (into which I have never before stepped).  I am wary and yet am immediately won over by the charm of these performers (several of which I have seen in prior Flea productions in recent months), and the carefully calibrated fun and witty and believable dialogue.

Narrator Nicky Schmidlein roller blades and arched-eyebrows her caped way onto the stage and through the action of Qui Nguyen‘s witty script and Robert Ross Parker‘s energetic direction of this gaming adventure as family love story.  Agnes (Satomi Blair) is a young high school teacher (in middle-town Midwest Athens, Ohio) who has recently lost her parents and her teen-aged sister TIlly (Allison Buck) in a car crash.  As a way to deal with her grief and to learn something of the young sister she didn’t know very well, Agnes examines a notebook filled with what turns out to be a “homespun module”, a map, an adventure, for the fantasy game “Dungeons and Dragons” that was all the geek-rage pre-Internet, pre-Myspace, pre-Facebook.  Social networking via fantasy play. Through role play Agnes emerges from her own shell and gets to know some of the young people in her town, and the young woman her sister Tilly was becoming through her character “Tillius the Paladin” who adventures on in the module Agnes learns to play with the aid of local teenaged gamer Chuck (Jack Corcoran) and other characters within the module who turn out to be veiled references to individuals in Tilly’s teen-aged life.

This is a raucous and gentle, nuanced and broad, gentle comic book of a tale.  The following exchange between Agnes and gamer Tilly illustrates something about why folks engage in these kinds of games, and why Tilly the character we meet only after she’s deceased is so adorable.

  • AGNES: I’m getting to know your friends.
  • TILLY: Are you judging them?
  • AGNES: No.
  • TILLY: I know they’re geeky, I’m geeky, we’re all geeks.
  • AGNES: Why do you think I care about that stuff?
  • TILLY: Everyone else does or did.  I mean until I died in a car crash and then suddenly, wow, I’m the most popular girl in school.
  • AGNES: Is that why all you guys play this?
  • TILLY: No, we play it because it’s awesome.  It’s about adventures and saving the world and having magic.  And maybe, in some small teeny capacity, I guess it might have a little to do with wish fulfillment.  Kelly gets to walk and Ronnie gets to be super strong…
  • AGNES: What about you?
  • TILLY: Me?  I get the girl.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 29, 2011)

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