‘She Kills Monsters’

‘She Kills Monsters’

UA play takes on real life within magical realm


“But this story remains. And isn’t that essentially all that life is — a collection of stories? This is one of mine …”

— “She Kills Monsters”

Playwright Qui Nguyen wants his audiences to see themselves in the superheroes he writes. And that means his superheroes have to be nontraditional — less Prince Charming and more Princess Leia, maybe more Last Starfighter than Han Solo.

In the case of “She Kills Monsters,” which opens Oct. 19 at the University of Arkansas’ black box theater in downtown Fayetteville, Nguyen’s heroines are sisters forging a relationship inside a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Plot twist: Tilly, the younger sister, died in a car wreck when she was 15. Then Agnes, three or four years past her grief, finds the notebook for the D&D module Tilly created and starts to play the game to understand who her sister was.

Like any good dungeon, Tilly’s is populated with monsters — which means UA actors are learning to be puppeteers — and around every corner is another sword fight — choreographed with the assistance of veteran fight director D.C. Wright. A regular visitor to Fayetteville to work on TheatreSquared shows, he teaches theater at Western Illinois University and stage combat all over the country.

“What’s important is storytelling,” he says, explaining that like learning lines, actors learn the movements of the fight scenes so that they can then portray their characters within those movements.

“My goal is not to make them good fighters,” he says. “It’s to help them tell a really cool story.”

That said, Wright turns to the cast, running them through fight scenes, jumping in to polish a movement, encouraging them to find “cool fight poses” as they end a sequence. The cinematic feel isn’t accidental.

“If I were going to do a big action movie, I’d need all the money in the world,” Nguyen said during a talk-back at Company One Theatre in Boston. “If I’m going to do it on stage, the limitation is the audience’s imagination — and that’s infinite.”

Like the play, the ensuing rehearsal is full of laughter, but director Morgan Hicks says emotions run deep. The night her technical crew watched the show — although it was still in a very raw form — she saw tears on several faces as the lights came up.

“In the real world, I KNOW these kids,” she says of the characters. “In the real world, THEY are these kids.”

Hicks says she loves the idea that in the fantasy world of New Landia, the sisters — and the other players of the game — learn to be stronger, braver, bolder than their real-world counterparts. “That really speaks to the ‘me’ that was a geek in high school,” she says. But she’s also adamant that the play isn’t just for gamers. In it, she sees the truth of loss and regret for the time not invested in “making connections in the real world.”

“It leaves on such a hopeful and happy note,” she says. “It’s not a tragedy. It’s not too … precious. But I cry three or four times a night. It’s so hard to lose someone you love.”

Anna Grace Estes of Little Rock plays Agnes in the UA production, and Madi Watkins of Van Buren is Tilly. Both theater majors, they say they’ve not only created a friendship themselves but have grown closer to their own siblings.

“I have never lost a sibling like that, but I have lost people, so I know the frustration of wishing you had more time,” Estes says. Agnes only gets to know pieces of Tilly, Watkins adds, but it’s Tilly’s best version of herself. “So much of her soul is written in the game.”

“It’s really a love story between the two sisters,” Watkins says. “It’s made me think about what I would want people to remember about me. There’s a great line in what is kind of the epilogue: I hope this gives you a glimpse of how I wanted you to see me — strong, powerful and magical.”



‘She Kills Monsters’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19-20; 2 p.m. Oct. 21; again Oct. 24-28

WHERE — University of Arkansas Global Campus Theatre on the Fayetteville square

COST — $5-$20

INFO — 575-4752

Photo courtesy Ashley Cohea
Agnes (played by Anna Grace Estes, left) is normal — really, really normal. So the secret life of her sister Tilly (Madi Watkins, right) mystifies her in the University Theatre production of “She Kills Monsters,” opening Oct. 19.


Categories: Cover Story