From May 5 to May 8 the Binghamton University Theatre Department showcased their rendition of Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters.” This unique play follows the protagonist, Agnes, as she adventures through a real life version of Dungeons & Dragons mirroring her emotional pursuit to get to know her late sister, Tilly.
The actors did the story justice, with a narrative consisting of dark undertones and pain-driven experiences, while also holding the audience’s attention through comedic timing. From the beginning of the play it was evident that both the narrator and the characters within the story were meant to represent distinct caricatures, playing into their ’90s-based identities and utilizing dark humor to make light of such serious topics. Playing into the ’90s theme, time period jokes sought to place the scene and evoke laughter for those who understood references like “Twin Peaks,” the VCR, how slow the internet was and Madonna being a symbol in the queer community. Alongside these references were the typical villains and heroes from a ’90s movie — the dorky underdogs versus the mean girl cheerleaders. This was a fun way to approach storytelling and a successful way of getting the audience to feel involved in the show.
Another feat was the action, as Agnes, Tilly and their team fought off the various monsters of the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons. The stage combat was impressive and well-choreographed, which is not an easy task, especially for a live performance. The sound effects added to the believability of the fights and the overall adventure. Mary Chattin, a junior majoring in political science, played the character of Agnes and conversed through email about her experience in a show that involved physical responsibilities.
“Keeping myself physically in shape and safe with all the stage combat and fighting has been very important,” Chattin said. “Jacqueline Holloway, our fight choreographer, has been fantastic to work with and makes sure everyone stays safe while fighting on stage.”
From the initial viewing of the stage design, it was apparent that the aesthetic component of the show was well-produced. The stage often consisted of colorful backdrops, large props like the Dungeons & Dragons die and elaborate shadow play. In addition to the stage props, the costumes, particularly the different monsters and the five-headed dragon, the Tiamat, were impressive, well-detailed and were implemented well into the physical choreography of the performers.
To conclude, it is critical to highlight Qui Nguyen’s writing and how the actors portrayed this innovative story. The storyline, which featured serious topics such as homophobia, the struggles of coming out, death and mourning, followed a creative format, alternating between real life and the fictional world that Tilly had created. The use of a fictional world helped audience members to visualize complex themes and follow a narrative filled with heavy material in a way that was entertaining and primarily lighthearted. Chattin commented on these themes and her experience tackling them as an actress.
“It’s been a tough journey, but one that’s been wholly illuminating and humbling to take,” Chattin wrote. “There are situations in this story that I haven’t experienced personally, but having the opportunity to listen to others who have, as well as being guided by our wonderful director Brian Gillespie, have all been crucial in my ability to give the story justice.”
Chattin continued by sharing her thoughts on the choice of the play.
“I think they made a fantastic decision with ‘She Kills Monsters,’” Chattin said. “I don’t think there’s ever a wrong time for a story like this to be told.”
Overall, the cast and crew of “She Kills Monsters” managed to execute a contemporary approach to a timeless discussion about the universal struggles of loss and identity that many individuals still endure today.