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Living in a fantasy

by Lenise Willis

Sometimes living in the real world is just plain boring, which is why playing pretend will forever appeal to us. After all, what woman wouldn’t want to be a hot leather-bound dominatrix, or a sexy fairy that can kick ass? Since its 90s-heyday, Dungeons and Dragons and other fantasy role-playing games have provided a refuge of magic and mystery for misfits and those longing to leave behind the humdrum. That appeal is exactly what the comedic play She Kills Monsters seeks to explain.

The play tells the story of Agnes Evans, who returns to her Ohio home after her family, including her 15-year-old younger sister Tilly, dies in a car crash. Regretting not getting to know her sister, Agnes begins to look for clues in Tilly’s room, only to find not a diary, but a Dungeons and Dragons notebook. With the help of a high school DM (Dungeon Master), Agnes plays her sister’s role-playing “module” and not only learns about her sister’s inner struggles, but also how addicting and comforting the fantasy world can be.

In UNC Greensboro’s performance Sunday, the contagious adrenaline and overall “bad-assery” of RPGs (role-playing games) came to life on the stage as giant tree monsters, ogres and homicidal fairies battled to the death.

To play the game, Agnes meets her sister’s “party” of characters who will journey with her to find her sister’s lost soul.

Together, her sister’s knight character, as well as the sexy leather-bound Lilith, who eats the flesh of her kills, and the beautifully majestic, yet powerful elf Kaliope journey through the pretend world, fighting bosses along the way.

The costumes, designed by Sydney de Briel, played a huge role in transforming the actors into their other-worldly counterparts. Kaliope (Sha-Reh Reese) shows off her physique in a silken green outfit that bares her stomach and Lilith (Caity Brewer) shows off her captivating wild side in a leather bodice and tall boots. Both actresses exuded a wonderful confidence and powerful presence.

Cameron Newton, dressed in bulging red muscles and horns, added comic relief as Orcus, a lazy demon prince and lord of the undead.

Briel’s best work was on the monsters costumes, especially the five-headed dragon boss. Mandy Thomas’ lighting design, as well as the sound design were perfectly timed to the action and made everything on stage even more powerful. The final scene with the dragon is by far the best with its ten eyes glowing yellow in the dark, until its shape is finally revealed in a red haze during the battle.

The fight choreography was wonderful, as well. The battle scenes were creative and the perfect compromise between professional and amateur. Since the battles are indeed pretend, the choreography has a fake playfulness about it, and yet still contains those awesome moves that we “think” we would do if we were wielding a sword or axe at a giant eyeball or murderous flying fairy.

Besides the kick-ass battles that reminded me of when I used to play ninja with my cousins, the play has a serious undertone, too. One that explains how, for some, role-playing games are a comforting escape from the real world. For Agnes’ sister, Tilly, Dungeons and Dragons allowed her to re-write her world. In D&D, her best friend Kaliope is a beautiful elf, not condemned to a wheelchair, and Tilly gets to kick the butts of Evil Tina and Evil Gabby, succubus cheerleaders fashioned after the mean girls at school.

Another nice surprise (for those of my generation anyway) was the winks to the game’s heyday: the 1990s. As homage, the play contains references to 90s pop culture, like the Power Rangers and dance-offs. Even David Bowie, dressed in full Labyrinth costume, makes an appearance in honor of cheesy fantasy.

Overall, the play was a fantastic portrayal of the fantasy world and brings out the inner geek and warrior in us all. It’s also hilarious and doesn’t mind poking fun of the nerdiness of RPGs, while also pointing out how kind of badass they are, too. !

WANNA go?

UNCG Theatre presents She Kills Monsters Thursday through Sunday in the Taylor Theatre, 406 Tate St., Greensboro. Tickets are $18 ($12 for students and seniors). For tickets and more information call 272-0160 or visit theatre.uncg.edu.

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