“She Kills Monsters” is a strange little fable with a sweet message about love, loss and tolerance. The ongoing production by the Utah State University Theatre Arts Department is also a funny romp into the fantasy world of role-playing geeks with lots of comic swordplay, stylish costumes and imaginative special effects.
You don’t have to be a real nerd with in-depth knowledge of 1990s pop culture to enjoy this show, but it doesn’t hurt.
“She Kills Monsters” is a prime example of geek theatre, a new stage genre developed by Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen blending pop culture satire, stage combat, puppetry and multi-media special effects. Nguyen founded the award-winning New York based Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company to perform his prolific body of plays. After debuting for packed audiences at the New York International Fringe Festival, Nguyen’s shows have developed growing national popularity, particularly with young audiences and directors inclined toward fast-paced fight scenes.
The challenges of staging a geek theatre production made guest director Chris Duval an ideal choice to bring “She Kills Monsters” to the Caine Lyric Theatre stage. Duval is an associate professor at the University of Utah who doubles as the resident fight director for the Pioneer Theatre Company. Duval’s ability to expertly choreograph an on-stage brawl was clearly displayed in both full-speed and slow-motion sword-fights throughout “She Kills Monsters.”
But it was the wide-eyed commitment of the young USU cast to their portrayals that made this show rise above its own good-natured sword-and-sorcery goofiness. Thanks to their talents, “She Kills Monsters” embraced the naivete of nerd culture rather than mocking it.
USU newcomer Bailee Miner opens the show as an elf narrator, doing a dead-on mimic of Cate Blanchett in Lord of the Rings.
Megan Codling and Cat Evangelho are perfect as two sisters separated by tragedy who learn to know and love each other in the improbable setting of a Dungeons & Dragons game.
Crowd-pleaser Alex Smith is back as the dungeon master Chuck who orchestrates a posthumous meeting of the minds between the estranged sisters. Smith is at his hilarious best in a scene with Scotty Fletcher that is laden with unintentional sexual double entendres.
Blake Brundy is equally amusing in one of his trademark gender-bending characterizations as Farrah, a homicidal fairy.
Cameron S. Neeley is sadly unrecognizable under tons of makeup but nonetheless excellent as Orcus, a demon with an addiction to TV reruns.
USU veteran Mollee Barse takes a real stab at stealing the show as a high school guidance counselor who could never be accused of being “politically correct.”
Sandra Cook and Megan Hardy finish up the list of cast standouts as evil twin succubi who spread fear and humiliation while masquerading as – what else? – high school cheerleaders.
Hats off to Callie Lythgoe and Lydia Semler for wild costume designs for “She Kills Monsters,” particularly the get-up on Cameron Neeley.
And what D&D game would be complete without a dragon? Kudos to Dennis Hassan for coming up with a huge multiple-headed dragon puppet.
Performances of “She Kills Monsters” will continue at the Caine Lyric Theatre through Saturday, Feb. 8th.
Please be aware, however, that this is definitely a PG-13 show.