Smile Politely

Slaying dragons & finding yourself: She Kills Monsters at the Station Theatre

Walking into the Station Theatre on Thursday, February 18th, you could sense the play She Kills Monsters was going to be a little different. Four cast members sat around the play’s folding table piled high with core rule books, charts, and dice. As the audience trickled in, the director quietly led a discussion on gameplay with three of the actors. Behind them a large sword gleamed in the stage lights (and was later used by Director Mikel L. Matthews, Jr. to jokingly remind folks to turn off their cell phones). The stark stage of black and white with blue lines suggested a map laid out on a grid with pools of somber reality in this made-up realm of fantasy. This quiet tableau was merely a taste of what was to come.

Wonderfully nerdy, the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre brings a heartfelt and entertaining play to life. She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen follows Agnes Evans (Faith Ramsey) as she discovers and plays her deceased sister Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons module. In questing for the Lost Soul of Athens, Agnes comes to terms with the death of Tilly (Maureen Sanderson) and their relationship (or lack thereof) as siblings. Strong performances by the entire cast kept the jokes coming and tears rolling. Nguyen’s dialogue is laced with pop-culture references that, at times, seem forced or clunky, but at others, seemed wholly appropriate to the scene. Well-directed and well-choreographed, She Kills Monsters makes you want to start your own quest of self-discovery or continue one you’ve started long ago.

Along with Ramsey and Sanderson, there are 8 other actors making their debuts at Station Theatre in SKM, and they all embody their roles perfectly. Jonathan Cortez brings an exuberance to his role as Narrator, which sets a great tone for the rest of the play. From the opening scene, you see how easily Ramsey and Sanderson capture Agnes the “normal” sister and Tilly the “weird” sister  respectively. Ramsey shoulders the emotional roller coaster Agnes sets out on as she transitions from Agnes “The Normal One” to Agnes “The Asshatted.” Similarly, Sanderson’s goofy Tilly, or better known as lawful good Tillius the Paladin, begins to crack, break, and become more human.

Helping Agnes in her endeavor is her best friend Vera and Tilly’s friend Chuck. Played by Andrew Ambrose Lee, Chuck is an experienced Dungeon Master who agrees to teach and guide Agnes through her first quest. Lee plays the overconfident to the point of cocky yet horribly awkward nerdy friend to the hilt. His presence at the folding table whenever Agnes goes questing helps to ground the audience in remembering that her quest is pure imagination. When the game breaks down due to an emotional revelation about Tilly, Lee is the friend to help Agnes find some meaning and understanding. The other person to help Agnes is her old friend Vera played by Tina Turner. Turner’s comedy chops help her to deliver Vera’s sardonic lines with a bit of heart. In doing so, you kind of wish your high school student counselor was that realistic and awesome.

Aiding or hindering Agnes on the rest of her quest is a stellar group of adventurers, teenage cheerleading succubi, and a random wizard who falls into various traps. Kimmy Schofield as the Dark Elf Kaliope and Kimi Arquines as Lillith the Demon Princess join Agnes in her quest at the behest of their leader Tillius the Paladin. They eventually find a fourth for their party – the demon Orcus (Jace Jamison) who gave (traded!) the the Lost Soul of Athens away to the dreaded five-headed dragon Tiamat. After some adjustment, the audience sees how the world of O-Hi and the Quest of the Lost Soul of Athens invades and permeates Agnes’ daily life.


You also see how the module is based on Tilly’s life, her experiences, and her feelings.  For example, the cheerleading succubi known as Evil Gabbi (Kayleigh Doyle) and Evil Tina (Kate Henkelman) along with Steve the Wizard (Jay Kim) are revealed to be fellow high school students from Tilly’s grade in real life. By the second act, you realize the module was made by Tilly to vent her frustrations and lose herself in an imaginary world of her making. When Agnes is confronted with a doppelganger of her boyfriend Miles (Dar’Keith Lofton), she is forced to question her own choices and feelings about her life. All of these actors do a phenomenal job under the direction of Matthews, and it is worth seeing this talent if you can. The rest of the production team are not slackers either.

With a script laced with 90s musical references like “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” the production team seemed to have fun adding more popular culture references to the play. There are at least two Final Fantasy musical references plus a bonus battle configuration reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII through FFXII. If Final Fantasy wasn’t your jam, Matthews selected the Alan Parsons Project’s Chicago Bulls theme to play during Tilly’s introduction of Lillith and Kaliope. That song immediately conjures up memories of dynasty and players at the top of their game. If that also isn’t your thing, you’ll probably squeal with delight when Chuck gives Agnes the Asshatted a foam shield bearing the Triforce symbol from The Legend of Zelda. What got to me personally was seeing the actors play with the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toys that my brother and I had as kids. These are only a handful of the little touches by the production team that took a script that references 10,000 Maniacs and The Cranberries over the top. The references can be a tad distracting in the first act, but by the second act, you almost crave them to help to deal with the drama unfolding before your eyes.

So, SKM is a play made for us 20 to 30-somethings who were nerds, geeks, and dweebs in the 1990s to 2000s. However, if you are a Dungeons and Dragons fan, you should do yourself a favor and go on a quest for tickets.

To reserve seats, visit the Station Theatre’s website or call (217) 384-4000. Tickets are $10 for Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday performances and $15 on Fridays and Saturdays. Cash or check only. Performances start at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted. She Kills Monsters runs from Thurs. Feb. 18th to Sat. March 5th.

Top photo taken by Sarah Keim, a contributing writer to Smile Politely’s Arts section. She’s a bit of a recluse on social media, but you might bump into her out in the wilds of C-U. Frequent sightings occur at coffee shops, farmers markets, and hockey games.

All other photos by Scott Wells. 

About Scott Wells:

Scott is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He has been a photographer and writer for Smile Politely since March of 2015.

Related Articles