Regional Reviews: Phoenix
She Kills Monsters
Fifteen-year-old Tilly Evans and her parents have recently been killed in a car accident. Tilly's 25-year-old school teacher sister Agnes discovers a notebook that Tilly left behind that lays out a Dungeons & Dragons game she created. Realizing the notebook is a way to discover the sister she never really knew, Agnes seeks out Tilly's teenage friend Chuck to help her navigate her way through the fantasy game that Tilly created. Alternating between the real and D&D worlds, Agnes meets many of Tilly's friends, both real and imaginary, and finds out a lot more about her sister and herself then she ever thought she would.
The play premiered in 2011 and has been performed by many theatre companies across the country. It's well written, has easily identifiable characters, and presents a nice journey of discovery at its core with an abundance of laugh out loud moments. While he uses stereotypical "geek" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" type heroine characters for Tilly's game in the play, Nguyen twists the stereotypes a bit and also shows how Tilly based them on people she knew, which adds a nice layer of realism and emotion. The play is set in the early 1990s and includes many pop culture references of that era that elicit additional laughs.
Brelby's production is performed by an agile and energetic group of young actors led by Shelby Maticic as Agnes and Kristiana Faddoul as Tilly, who are very good at portraying two very different sisters. Maticic easily gets across the serious older sibling, who, at first, is as clueless about role-playing games as she is about her sister, but quickly learns to relish wielding a sword with glee. Faddoul is equally good as the strong character that Tilly becomes within the game and touching in the moments she has with Maticic when the truths about Tilly and her friends come to light.
Mia Passarella and Melody Knudson are powerful as Tilly's warrior friends in the game, Lilith and Kaliope, and each has a scene or two as Tilly's real life friends Lily and Kelly that are equally strong and moving. Passarella is quite effective as the fierce, leather clad dominatrix Lilith and a knock-out as the gentle, unsure of herself Lily. Knudson recently scored in the Hale Centre Theatre production of The Miracle Worker where she portrayed Helen Keller's mother and she is as moving here as the sleek Elfin Kaliope and wheelchair-bound Kelly as she was at Hale. David Magadan gets just about everything right in bringing teenager Chuck to life. He's got the appropriate demeanor and mannerisms of a typical "geek" who at first gets flustered when meeting the older woman Agnes. However, while he has nice comic timing and is impressive with his line delivery, his facial expressions go a little too over the top during his encounter with Agnes and her boyfriend. Still, it is a very funny and worthwhile performance.
Fernando Perez is appropriately immature yet sincere as Agnes' boyfriend Miles, who isn't quite ready to commit after dating Agnes for five years. As Agnes' no nonsense, high-school guidance counselor friend Vera, Colleen Carnahan has a perfect droll delivery. Jose Martinez and Simon Faddoul bring plenty of humor to the couch potato and "Quantum Leap"-obsessed Orcus and the gamer Steve, respectively. Faddoul is very amusing in how he continually gets killed in numerous, comical ways. Willa Eigo and April Rideout are hilarious as the "valley girl" speaking, gum chewing, evil cheerleaders. Jaren Navenma has the perfect dry delivery as the Narrator of the piece, though his voice is sometimes drowned out by the music underscoring. Navenma and DJ Hall also are quite effective as the "movers" during the fight sequences; completely dressed in black and with perfect timing, they pick up the various characters during the action sequences to make them appear as though they are flying through space. It is both humorous and dramatic to watch them work.
Brian Maticic doesn't make any missteps in his direction of the production and his fight choreography is imaginative, abundant, not repetitive and impressive in how it combines fast-paced action with comical and dramatic moments, just like Nguyen's play. He also designed the multi-layered, dungeon inspired set which uses projections and nicely back-lit screens to swiftly change from one scene to the next. He also created the numerous witty puppet creatures our heroines and heroes fight in the game. Carolyn McBurney and Shelby Maticic designed some fantastic costumes that are creative and imaginative and fit perfectly with the characters personas. Jessie Tully's hair and makeup design work wonders in transforming the actors from imaginary characters to real life ones and back again. Nicely used music and sound effects by Luke Gomez help underscore the scenes. Mollie Flanagan's lighting is moody and seductive for the game sequences, but appropriately bright for the real life moments. While Brelby's productions might at first appear to be theatre on a shoestring budget, the Maticics are quite effective in how they manage to do a lot with a little and definitely know how to be successful on a limited budget.
She Kills Monsters is a fast moving, funny and touching homage to the geek and imaginary warrior within us all. With an impressive cast, keen direction and perfectly imaginative creative elements, Brelby's production of the play is a winner. And, as someone who never played Dungeons & Dragons or any other role playing games, I can say that you don't need to know anything about them to understand the journey that Agnes is taking and to be moved by what she discovers along the way.
The Brelby Theatre Company production of She Kills Monsters runs through July 26th, 2014, with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781
Director/Fight Choreographer: Brian Maticic