CONSIDERING POP CULTURE’S CURRENT FASCInation with “Game of Thrones,” it shouldn’t be surprising that The Naples Players is capitalizing on audiences’ thirst for fantastical political gamesmanship as entertainment. Luckily, the troupe’s first production of the season, “She Kills Monsters,” tackles ogres, fairies and sibling rivalry with humor and grace rather than pathos and carnage.
Debuting Wednesday, Oct. 11, and running through Sunday, Nov. 5, writer Qui Nguyen’s award-winning play takes audiences on a journey into the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons when Agnes, a school teacher, comes across her younger sister’s gaming scenario years after her death. In an effort to finally understand Tilly, a sarcastic and nerdy teen, Agnes enlists a student’s help to play her sister’s game and is transported into her imagination.
“The younger sister is very alive in the game and so by entering (the module), Agnes gets introduced to her sister in a way she never knew her,” said director El Armstrong. “She essentially reunites with her sister in the game, as well as her sister’s friends and co-adventurers. She learns several things about her sister she didn’t know.”
Encountering your dead sibling in a world where she violently interacts with the mythical and mystical has to be illuminating, and Agnes wastes no time immersing herself in brawls and intrigue that bring out her inner superhero as well. The cast spent weeks mastering fight choreography with fight director Dan Granke for the play’s many encounters. Most theater productions he works on have only one or two fights; “She Kills Monsters” dwarfs them at 10.
“The fights are a huge part of this play and are absolutely essential,” he said. “The play is so much about adventure and the thrill of telling a fantasy story. For people who connect to that, the drama of the fights is a huge part of the play.”
As a theater professional who specializes in movement, Mr. Granke said he gets to work on the best five minutes of any stage production. Working on “She Kills Monsters” is “a fight director’s” dream because of the density of fights in the space of a ninety-minute show, he said.
“It’s not just the same thing over and over again. Each has its own unique problem to solve,” he said. “It’s a chance to have a huge sandbox to work in and do a whole lot more stuff.”
For instance, most audiences are accustomed to only seeing fencing— or just good old-fashioned fist fights — in more traditional productions. By working in the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons, Mr. Granke gets to dabble in medieval European and Asian sword play, hand-to-hand combat and train actors how to wield obscure weapons like the katana, the traditional weapon of Japanese samurai, or a falchion, a medieval sword of European origin that resembles a machete.
“It’s only one thing if they all fight the same, so it’s interesting to see that the characters all move differently and use different techniques,” he said. “We get to put all kinds of weapons onstage. It’s not like Shakespeare where they’re all fighting with the same type of sword.”
The physical requirements of the play are so demanding Mr. Armstrong invited Mr. Granke to be part of the casting process, which is unusual in his line of work.
“Because it was so heavy, I was part of the casting process, which is not usually not the case,” he said. “I would evaluate their ability and would teach them a combo to see how they would pick things up.”
One of Mr. Armstrong’s challenges was the play’s toggling between reality and fantasy. In film, characters easily travel through their imaginations while firmly planted in reality, but executing it onstage is difficult.
“The play takes place back and forth between Agnes’ real world and the game world. There are times it shifts almost seamlessly back and forth,” he said “There are really large challenges to producing a show that happens to be shifting between two realities at the drop of a hat.”
But it all adds up to the flash and magic that will dazzle audiences who may not ordinarily buy tickets to such a contemporary show, he said. It’s a fast-moving and imaginative play that offers all the artistic pay-off of traditional theater in a more innovative form.
“It’s certainly a different style that what the audiences here are accustomed to, but they’ll come in and get caught up in the flash of the show and the game and the humor of what’s going on,” Mr. Armstrong said. “I’m hoping they’ll leave with things to think about like how do we treat people who are different in society and in our own lives and how much do we really know about the person next to us.”
As this season’s inaugural production, “She Kills Monsters” indicates a new motivation to incorporate different types of theater into The Naples Players repertoire, said artistic director Bryce Alexander. While there will always be shows that attract the troupe’s more traditional audiences, this work and others like “Rapture, Blister Burn,” which offers commentary on modern feminism and gender politics, will hopefully attract new audiences who don’t often see their tastes reflected in the local arts scene.
“I think this is an audience who is not used to being entertained by live theater performances, or people who think of theater as being stuffy. They’re not dissimilar from people who would see ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’” Mr. Alexander said. “You have to be willing to step out of the box and try new things, otherwise it gets stale. That doesn’t mean we can’t produce the classics we all know and love, but we can try new things.”
Despite being a departure from classic musicals and dramas, “She Kills Monsters” still conveys messages about the importance of community and family that are pertinent to all audiences.
“Your traditional audiences might not be used to the sword fights and younger humor, but the messages are the same,” Mr. Alexander said. “The bottom line is that it’s about love and family and needing community and that applies to everybody.”
“She Kills Monsters” debuts Wednesday, Oct. 11, with a red carpet celebration with hors d’oeuvres, craft beer tastings and a performance by Steampunk Stompers at 6:30 p.m., with the performance starting at 7:30 p.m. Through Sunday, Nov. 5, performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. in Sugden Community Theater’s Blackburn Hall. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for members, and $10 for students and teachers. For more information about “She Kills Monsters” and other shows in The Naples Players 2017-2018 season, visit naplesplayers.org or call (239) 263-7990. (Photos by Patrice shields and Vandy Major)
Read the full article at Florida Weekly: https://naples.floridaweekly.com/articles/she-kills-monsters/