Jay Schlichter, email@example.com, 239-213-6065Published 1:00 p.m. ET Oct. 6, 2017
The ultra-geeky game of “Dungeons and Dragons” has appeared in most forms of entertainment mediums. That is, except one. The stage. Well, those days are officially over. Not long ago, a writer who’s been called a pioneer in bringing nerd culture to the theater scene penned “She Kills Monsters.” In that play, as well as the many others he’s written, Qui Nguyen tackles issues and dramatizes scenes that many geeks can relate to, while also inserting pop culture references, particularly from the ’80s and ’90s.
“She Kills Monsters” is a dramatic comedy about discovering the truth of those who are closest to us — in this case, a younger sister. Nguyen often caters to a more modern audience — think millennials — accustomed to being regaled with jokes about social media, sexual preferences and the Smashing Pumpkins. This play definitely follows that style, and ups the ante with adult themes and language. Definitely leave the kids home with a baby sitter. Teens, however, will be used to this type of content. What makes it more intriguing is that it’s being performed in a place one wouldn’t normally expect to see such an in-your-face tale: The Naples Players. But that’s exactly why the Sugden Community Theater’s artistic director, who’s been in the gig for just under a year, is bringing it to Southwest Florida. Bryce Alexander wants to stir things up a bit at the Naples theater and bring a “wide range” of plays to both its small and big stages — Tobye Studio and Blackburn Hall. “We put on eight major shows a year, and we have the opportunity to try and branch out and try new things,” he said. “I want to make sure we can serve the widest group of people.”
Alexander’s far from the only one interested in Nguyen’s works, which have been winning numerous awards and praise. As evidence of that, “She Kills Monsters” is being produced or coming soon to 68 theaters nationwide, according to the publisher’s website.
The play kicks off like any comedy, with the deaths of three characters. Yes, I’m serious. And yes, this is actually a comedy.
Not long after losing her parents and sister in a car crash, the main character, Agnes, discovers her late sister’s notebook, complete with a full Dungeons and Dragons quest. She decides to pursue it and seeks out help from a super nerd. That’s when things get weird and wild.
Dungeons and Dragons, shortened to D&D by the geeks who have been addicted since its outset in the ’70s, started out solely as book-based. Then references to the game started finding their way into other forms of media, some more direct than others. Many video game developers, for example, created an entire genre based on them, known as role-playing games or just RPG.
The play makes casual reference to that in the beginning, as the show’s three narrators explain: “In a time before Facebook, World of Warcraft and Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs, there once existed simply a game. Forged by the hands of nerds, crafted in the minds of geeks, and so advanced in its advanciness it would take a whole second edition to contain all its mighty geekery.
“And here in the land of Ohio during the year of 1995, one of the rarest types of geeks walked the earth. A Dungeon Master without fear, prejudice or a penis. This nerd was a girl-nerd, the most uncommon form of nerd in the world.”
Told you it was a crazy comedy! In addition to choice words like the one above, the play contains a few f-bombs and other four-letter swears. However, they don’t seem out of place in the fantastical setting.
When Alexander initially thought about bringing “She Kills Monsters” to Naples, he wanted a director with a geeky background and the vision to pull this off. He found that in El Armstrong, an Emmy- and Grammy-nominated film, audio and theater guru from Denver, where the two have worked together before.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful piece of theater,” said Armstrong said. “(Qui’s) part of a new breed of authors bringing a modern film aesthetic to the stage.”
In addition to the profanity, “She Kills Monsters” is a very fight-heavy play, with the usual sword fighting and magic spells that would be expected in any D&D-related story.
But Armstrong and Alexander, along with many of the 15 local actors who are portraying characters from both this world and the fantasy realm, said that Nguyen’s plays aren’t solely about the cuss words and swordplay.
“He keeps heart in the show,” Armstrong said. “It’s not all fluff and sword fights. There are some really thought-provoking things in it. You get sucked in by the silliness, but there is still something to think about at the end of the show. To me, that’s good theater.”
This show has that in spades. This writer watched the actors rehearse their performance about two weeks before opening night, and they were already spot on, and not only with the fight scenes. That’s made even more incredible by the fact that the entire cast and crew lost two weeks of practice thanks to Hurricane Irma.
Some of the best parts of the play are the dancing scenes — yes, you read that right — but the audience will leave with something to think about long after seeing it. Many may even want to reach out to a family member and reconnect, before it’s too late.
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‘She Kills Monsters’
Where: Sudgen Community Theatre, 701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
When: Oct. 11 to Nov. 5 (Wednesday and Thursday shows 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday shows 8 p.m., Sunday shows 2 p.m.)
Tickets: $40 for adults, $35 for subscribers, $10 for students 21 and under