Should you go see "She Kills Monsters" by the Naples Players at the Sugden Community Theatre?
Hell if I know.
In all my decades of reviewing shows, I've rarely felt as uncertain and as stymied by a play.
Did I like it?
Did I dislike it?
Would I recommend you go see it?
If you enjoy Dungeons and Dragons or cosplay or superheroes, yes. (In fact, you will positively geek out over it.) If you grew up in the '90s, yes.
If you think Neil Simon's works are the epitome of comedic plays, then no. If you're homophobic and offended by same-sex affection, no.
The Friday night audience was surprisingly sparse. (And this just two days after opening night.) I've never seen Blackburn Hall with so many rows of empty seats.
And about a dozen people walked out (at various times) during this intermission less show.
They might have been bored or frustrated or offended.
This play isn't everyone's cup of tea, that's for sure.
"She Kills Monsters" tells the story of Agnes (Amy Hughes), whose 15-year-old younger sister, Tilly (Amelia Mauriello). was killed in a car crash, along with their parents. (This backstory is told in comic-book type images on a screen, animations by Terence Brown II.) Agnes finds her sister's "homespun module," which is described as a map for Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game.
Agnes decides to play the game in order to get closer to her dead sister and understand her better.
She first meets Chuck (Zachary Pachol), a D&D nerd who's into comics and fancies himself a lady-killer, but is anything but. Mr. Pachol does a good job of making his character - a pudgy teen in a backwards baseball cap who lacks social skills -annoying and unlikeable. As far as I could determine, Chuck's the guy who rolls the dice and tells the players what to do.
Agnes then meets the characters who will accompany her in this D&D adventure. Along with Tilly, there's Lilith (Mish Ritter), who carries a battleaxe and wears what looks like a short, black leather gladiator outfit. She's an Amazon who purrs, "Violence makes me hot." She wants to eat Agnes, saying, "You look like you would be delicious with a side of baby." Simultaneously terrifying and humorous, Ms. Ritter positively owns this role as an axe-swinging badass.
Kaliope (Carrie Drigotas) is an elf in a kind of chainmail outfit with a bikini top. She's
eerie (something later explained when she says elves are superior because they don't have emotions).
Then there's Orcus, a ram-horned kind of satyr-looking person wearing a black leather codpiece and halter. Mark Santos (who's usually behind the scenes as The Naples Players' set designer) makes this character entertaining and likeable.
Like the other characters on this five-person team, except for Agnes, Orcus is gay, declaring at one point, "I loves me the cock!" An overlord of the underworld, he has lost Tilly's soul and therefore is compelled to go along with the women on a journey to retrieve it.
They meet bugbear and succubus and shapeshifters (oh, my!) and have a lot of swordfights, which quickly grow silly and tiresome. Farrah (Kylie Campbell), a faerie, shows up, making her entrance in the middle of the theater itself. She's mean-spirited and bitchy, but I wish Ms. Campbell had made her even more so.
I also wish directors would stop using those middle doors for actors' entrances; not only do people in the front half of the house have to crane their necks to see what's happening behind them, but it takes you out of the play itself, as you're suddenly aware that you're seated in a theater. (And when the house lights were brought up for Ms. Campbell's entrance, I thought an intermission was beginning.)
The action alternates between the game and real life, where Agnes grapples with a non-committing, kinda blah boyfriend Miles (Chris Rand) and commiserates with her friend Vera (Kristin Cassidy), a cranky guidance counselor at the high school where Agnes also works. Ms. Cassidy shines in this role. Her character keeps a flask in her desk, and you know she's just counting the days to retirement. Her advice, of course, is of no help at all. (Kudos to set designer Mr. Santos for putting that ridiculous "Hang in there!" kitten-hanging-from-a-branch poster on Vera's office wall. It's the perfect touch, and just the kind of rah-rah type of poster you'd see in a guidance counselor's office.)
Ms. Hughes, as Agnes, holds her own among all the crazy monsters and over-the-top theatrics - and that's not an easy thing to do. Ms. Mauriello, as Tilly, is also very winning.
The set is a crumbling two-story castle with stone walls and a creepy tree. Sections on either side of the castle turn around to become Tilly's bedroom, Vera's office, Orcus' lair or the gaming store Chuck works in.
But the best thing about this play is the costumes and the monsters (created by Mark Vanagas.) And there's plenty of retro music to rock out to, including "The Macarena, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and numbers by Beck.
Playwright Qui Nguyen has penned some humorous lines and absurd situations that made me laugh out loud. But at times I felt the play had the mentality (and attention span) of a 12-year-old boy. Like all too many sci-fi films and superhero movies, the play focuses more on the costumes, action and special effects to the detriment of character development. The scenes are numerous and mostly very short. (And it's no surprise to learn the playwright has been hired by Marvel to write superhero scripts.)
If you know absolutely nothing about D&D, you might find yourself very confused by this play, which assumes you have basic knowledge of the game and how it's played. (Even a simple explanation in the program would've been helpful to those patrons.)
"She Kills Monsters" is the type of experimental show The Naples Players would typically put in the Sugden's Tobye Studio. But, for some reason, they decided to stage it in the main hall.
If Friday's audience is any indication, the company might lose money on this show. I honestly don't know if there are enough D&D devotees in the area to fill the Sugden night after night through Nov. 5. And I question whether "She Kills Monsters" has a universal appeal.
The Players are walking a fine line: They're obviously trying to reach out to a much younger audience, but must do so while not alienating faithful subscribers. Coming on the heels of "Rocky Horror Picture Show," this one might make some audience members wonder if the Players are being self-indulgent and putting on shows to please mostly themselves, allowing them to dress up in outlandish costumes.
It's easy to put on a costume. It's much harder to act and move an audience to tears or laughter. ¦
'She Kills Monsters'
>> Who: The Naples Players
>> When: Through Nov. 5
>> Where: The Sugden Community Theatre, Naples
>> Cost: $45 ($10 for students 21 and younger)
>> Info: 263-7990 or www.naplesplayers.org
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