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Magic Abounds at Miami University’s “She Kills Monsters”

Review by Nathan Top of “She Kills Monsters”: Miami University Theatre

Snappily written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Bridget Leak, “She Kills Monsters” takes place between two different worlds: Mid-nineties Ohio and a fantasy Dungeons and Dragons campaign created by the protagonist’s sister, Tilly.  Following her sister’s death, Agnes the Average and Ordinary stumbles upon the notebook containing the campaign and, with the assistance of a high school “Dungeon Master” Chuck, embarks on a journey through the RPG. As Agnes becomes emotionally invested in the journey, she meets many of Tilly’s friends and discovers a new world that before hidden to her. “She Kills Monsters” takes a hard yet humorous look at grief, loss, and how we can continue to learn about those we lose from the stories they leave behind.

The set and lighting designs, created by Gion DeFrancesco and Marly Wooster respectively, work hand-in-hand to create a fluid experience for the audience, especially from bouncing between suggested reality and fantasy. Jonathan Baca’s fight choreography is suitably humorous and delightful to watch, keeping the stakes low but the entertainment value high. After all, they are using foam swords and plastic shields. The costume designer, Madison Kollig, captures the leather-clad, semi-sexual fantasy the script suggests and the puppetry aspects of the production, designed by Melanie Mortimer, deepen the spectacle of the immersive world. Expositional shadow puppetry in the beginning of the play sets the tone for the show and, in the finale, an elaborate five-headed dragon is impressively revealed. Unfortunately, it was difficult to hear the actors’ lines in several instances due to the mix of mic’d and non-mic’d voices, especially with some very loud nineties hits playing in the background. Nevertheless, the gist of the show was cleverly executed and enjoyable to watch.

A wonderfully versatile cast fills out this colorful world of characters. Abby Chafe, playing the primary protagonist Agnes, nails the emotional heart of the show and proves to be a solid dancer in a surprising scene. Maddy Shilts, playing Tilly,  gives a complex portrayal of a deceased yet self-realized teenage girl and Baxter Whitehead is funny and charming as the earnestly derpy “Dungeon Master” Chuck. Molly Boozel (Lilith/Lilly) shares the most powerful scene of the show with Chafe, where the two of them join in solidarity of grief for their lost sister and friend/significant other. Boozell, Jacob Sloan (Orcus/Ronnie), and Sam Adams (Steve) nail their punchlines with great timing and duo Megan Hayes and Eleanor Alger (Evil Cheerleaders) are both appropriately vapid and hilarious. 
Oftentimes, college theater departments will choose shows that aren’t great fits for their programs. “She Kills Monsters” is a great show for this department. It was fun, fast paced, believably acted, and well-executed. The audience, packed with primarily college-age kids, was entirely invested in the show, resulting in what live theater is always meant to be: a communal experience. “She Kills Monsters” runs now through November 24th. Tickets can be purchased here.