Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Timely Look at the Monsters That Would Seek To Frighten Us – Company One Presents “She Kills Monsters” at the Boston Center for the Arts

Over the weekend, I was privileged to attend the Press Opening performance of “She Kills Monsters,” presented by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre.

I have waited a few days before offering my thoughts on this remarkable play and production.  I wanted to have an opportunity to sort out my feelings in the wake of Monday’s Marathon bombings and the aftermath.  I wanted to be sure that I was able to articulate those thoughts and feelings in a Blog piece before returning to the more “normal” activity of reviewing a play.   I think I have enough of a sense of perspective now to offer by thoughts on “She Kills Monsters” seen in retrospect in light of the attack on our city.
In that larger sense, this play is here for us at a perfect time, for its themes speak directly to the challenges that we face as a community and as individuals in light of the “monsters” who chose to attack us and try to diminish us.

Here are some ways in which I see intersections between the play and our real life tragedy.

  • teenager named Tilly dies along with her parents in a car accident, leaving behind an older sister, Agnes, who had never really understood her little sister.  Agnes is experiencing a combination of survivor’s guilt and regret at never having taken the time to explore who her little sister was.
  • Agnes becomes aware of a notebook that contains a private scenario for a Dungeons and Dragons game that Tilly had designed as a way to cope with her status as a geek and outsider.  In that private game, Tilly has created a character with powers to fight the “monsters” that haunt her in real life – cliquey cheerleaders, an insipid guidance counselor, and the usual assortment of denizens of a high school who can make life miserable for a kid who is slightly different.
  • Agnes grows throughout the play as she is catapulted out of her comfort zone and into her sister’s fantasy world and quest.  In the process, she faces real fear and learns to understand both her departed sister and herself in new ways.
  •  Like Agnes, many of us have been wrenched from our comfort zones this week and forced to face the consequence of having been attacked, instantly losing loved ones whom we may not have fully appreciated while they were with us.
  • We have been forced to reflect on what is means to come to really know and to value another human being, as well as to consider how to appropriately grieve a tragic loss.
  • Like Agnes, we also need to wrestle with the painful questions of how to move on while confronting the lingering demons and monsters of fear, doubt, regret and uncertainty.

The playwright, Qui Nguyen, has crafted a brilliantly designed play.  I was not sure what to expect, having known a bit about D&D from my sons who were big fans of role-playing games.  The best things I can say about the script without giving away too many details is that the author sets up the audience brilliantly for a wrenching roller coaster ride that runs the full spectrum of emotions.  I laughed uproariously at the intentionally sophomoric presentation of the high school kids creating and playing out their quest in Tilly’s private D&D scenario.  And then the tables quickly turned from comedic to poignant as Agnes begins to process the depth of her loss.  She has an ever-deepening sense that she never really took the time to know, or to even see, Tilly for who she was.  And she grieves the loss of her sister and the opportunities she let pass when Tilly was alive.  A writer who can make me laugh and cry within moments is either very manipulative or very clever.  I choose to applaud Nguyen’s cleverness and sensitivity.

The company of actors assembled by Director Shira Milikowsky brings Nguyen’s script to life in a wonderful way – full of energy, camp, irony and passion.  Throw in wonderful puppetry effects, great scenic (Erik D. Diaz) and lighting design (Justin Paice), and you have a formula for a moving night at the theater.
Jordan Clark as Tilly and Paige Clark Perkinson as Agnes anchor a cast that creates just the right balance between parody and tragedy.  Mike Handelman also stands out as Chuck, the Dungeon Master. They are ably supported by a strong ensemble that includes Noam Ash, Jamianne Devlin, Jacqui Dupre, Adobuere Ebiama, Meredith Saran, Stewart Evan Smith, Jordan Sobel and Katee Tredway.

As we continue to bind up our wounds inflicted by the still faceless and nameless “monsters” who chose to attack us on Monday, a few hours of reflection and entertainment in the company of Company One could be quite therapeutic.  “She Kills Monsters” - I recommend it.

A New England Premiere by Qui Nguyen 
Directed by Shira Milikowsky
Fight Direction by Robert Najarian
April 13 – May 11, 2013
After the totally-weird Tilly dies, oh-so-average Agnes doesn’t know what to make of the geekery her sister left behind. In an effort to understand the gulf between them, she embarks on a quest of Tilly’s own design, rife with hostile faeries, randy ogres, awkward high schoolers, and broadswords. Will Agnes discover her inner badass, or will the bugbears get her first? Qui Nguyen, resident playwright of Brooklyn’s Vampire Cowboys theatre, serves up a comedic nerdgasm – an homage to the outcast in all of us.

Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont Street
South End, Boston, MA

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