“You are standing on the sands of a mystical beachside. To one side of you is the endless ocean, on the other is an ominous dark forest. And from the distance, a hooded stranger approaches…”
With those words, Agnes Evans is thrust into the fantastical world of Dungeons and Dragons, on a quest that leads to self-discovery, adventure, and wicked-awesome fight scenes.
As a newb, Agnes (played by Amanda Campau - that’s me!) gathers her bearings while our Dungeon Master, Chuck (Played by Zach Rettig), sets the stage for her first ever D&D campaign. But this is a game like no other.
In fact, it is a premise made for a play that our director, Joshua Bates, absolutely had to put on.
“I was trying to find a show to do for this year, and I was reading a review about this play from the Steppenwolf Theater. It seemed so out of left field. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen on onstage.
“I ordered the play right away and fell in love with it from the first time I read it. To the point where in the morning I would wake up and think about the show. Once I got to that point where I was bugging my wife while talking about it at the dinner table, I was like, ‘I have to do it.’”
While some knowledge of D&D may get you bonus points, you don’t have to be a fan of the game to grasp the deeper meaning of the plot - or enjoy the massive amounts of stage fights against monsters that take place throughout the play.
“My favorite part of the show is definitely the combat,” says Erik Brower, who plays Orcus. As our reluctant Overlord of the Underworld, he joins our D&D party to find the Lost Soul of New Landia.
Like his character, Erik appreciates a good fight. “I grew up watching shows like Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and fighting and stuff. And I just love how fun the fights are.”
And like any D&D party, we have everything we need for a successful adventure. Tilly Evans, Agnes’ sister, plays a Paladin and the brains behind our campaign. We also meet her loyal party, consisting of:
● Lillith Morningstar, a Demon Queen, and our squad’s muscle. This sword-slaying she-devil is played by Michelle Jones, who comes in with her own experience of medieval combat. Hailing from Fort Collins, Colorado, Michelle fought as a member of the Order of Epona (now called The Knights of Tempest). With her brawn and beauty, she makes fighting in leather look easy (and awesome).
● Kaliope Darkwalker, a dark elf who doubles as our party’s tracker, is played by Jenny Aubrey. Although she seems ethereal and innocent, this tracker elf is deadly with a staff and saves our hides from several D&D baddies.
Filled with laughter, tears, and monster-killing montages set to 90’s music, She Kills Monsters brings fantasy to the stage, as our party of weapon-wielding heroes fights their way to the final beast of New Landia. But along the way, Agnes realizes that the monsters from her sister’s fantasy aren’t the only ones she needs to face.
In reality, the show takes place in 1995. We meet Agnes about two years after she lost her parents and younger sister in a car crash that upended her life. Although she finds some solace in the fantasy world, it forces her to face the very real pain she had been suppressing over the loss of her sister.
“I love the story of grief that follows Agness through the play,” says Emma MacMillan, who plays Agnes’ younger sister and our hero, Tilly Evans. “You really see her struggling to get over the death of her sister. If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, it’s easy to relate to her grieving process.”
Being more into MTV and legwarmers, Agnes never really meshed with her younger sister. Tilly wasn’t a normal 90’s kid. She was a rare form of nerd that walked among monsters and wove tales of bravery, where underdogs were the heroes and high school bullies were dancing-demon succubi.
All of this was unknown to Agnes, who soon learns through a handwritten D&D module left behind by Tilly, that there was more to her little nerdy sister than she had known before.
Having a similar dynamic with my younger sister, it wasn’t difficult to naturally fall into moments of equal parts sibling bickering and affection with Emma, who could also draw from her own real-life inspiration for the role of Tilly.
“I relate to Tilly’s relationship with her sister. My sister is eight years older than me and was more into mainstream things while I was into art and theater. I was always seen as the “nerdy” kid in the family,” said Emma.
Likewise, my sister is three years younger than me. While I’ve always been known to play it safe and was more interested in surfing and boy bands during my teenage years, my little sister embraced everything “otherly”. While explaining the play to my family, pretty much everyone said the same thing: “So, this is based on your real life?”
In a way, yes. And almost every sibling can relate to the connection that Agnes and Tilly share, from the bickering over relationships to wishing for acceptance to the sisterly love that thrives despite their contrasting worlds.
While we may argue with our siblings over what makes us different, it’s often those same things that bring us closer together and makes us stronger - a sentiment that She Kills Monsters captures beautifully and one of the main reasons that our beloved director was drawn to the play.
“My favorite thing about the show absolutely has to be that it’s an unconventional story about women,” said Josh. “Most of the time, the woman is in a position of struggle or needs assistance from a man. And it’s a show about two sisters and it’s not sappy. It’s mixed with ogres and dragons but yet has heart.”
Whether you’re in it for the touching moments, 90’s pop culture references or an adventure that only a D&D campaign can bring, She Kills Monsters has something for everyone.
Now, roll 20 for tickets.
Photography by Christiana Davies