You’ll like “She Kills Monsters” if:
» You’ve ever had regrets about a relationship.
» You’ve ever faced bullies, felt geeky or feared you didn’t fit in.
» You’ve ever wondered about how people will remember you when you’re gone, or fretted about the past and the future.
One (or more) of these things applies to just about everyone, so the new show at the Omaha Community Playhouse should appeal to a broad audience.
Director Beth Thompson and her great young cast have created a play that kept everyone at Thursday’s preview captivated for a quick 90 minutes. More than a few of us were leaning forward in our seats, waiting to see what happened next.
Schoolteacher Agnes (Catie Zaleski) is still mourning the death of her sister Tilly (Chloe Irwin), who was 15 when she died in a car accident and would have been graduating from high school when the play takes place in the 1990s. Partly because of their age difference, they never really connected — Agnes was conventional to the point of being boring, and Tilly occupied her time role-playing in “Dungeons & Dragons.” And Agnes is sorry she didn’t make an effort to connect.
Before she passed, Tilly wrote a “D&D” scenario that included her friends and, it turned out, more than a few clues about her life and her deepest desires. Agnes engages Chuck (Brendan Brown) as dungeon master, gives him Tilly’s notebook and asks him to help her play the game. Somehow, Tilly is among the players. (You’re left to decide whether it’s through Agnes’ imagination or something from another realm.)
Agnes learns many surprising and life-changing things about her sister that allow both her and Tilly to move forward.
I’ve never played the game, but I was drawn like a magnet into the story. Even with characters dressed like ancient warriors, horned monsters and evil cheerleaders, the entire thing seemed totally realistic. This ensemble of actors made the supernatural seem as natural as everyday life, and that’s a notable achievement, especially when you consider that many of them are still in high school.
Standouts included Irwin, a Gretna High School freshman who’s already had several major roles in Omaha theaters, and Zaleski, who made an auspicious Playhouse debut last year in “The Mountaintop.” Others were the extremely funny Brown, Westside High School student Riley Perez as Tilly’s friend Lilly, and area theater veteran Carrie Beth Stickrod as Vera, a sardonic guidance counselor who also shows up in “D&D.”
The play’s comic treatment of serious themes reminded me of “Heathers the Musical.” Playwright Qui Nguyen has a real knack for quick-witted dialogue that slyly takes jabs at 1990s geek phenomenons such as “Quantum Leap.”
Much of the play’s success comes in battles choreographed by Amy Elizabeth Schweid, and there are a lot of them. I’m always impressed at the precision and realism in Playhouse fight scenes, and these were some of the best. Amanda Fehlner’s knack for designing cosplay costumes was evident in the medieval-looking “D&D” outfits. The red fuzzy suit for the villain Orcus (Kevin Goshorn), with horns and fangs, was particularly cool, as was a frilly fairy costume.
I did find myself wondering if there might have been a better way to “dress” a shape-shifting “character” other than material draped to look like a box. Blame movie special effects for spoiling me, I guess.
The preview was remarkably free of foibles and was super fast-paced, free of some of the gaps you find before performers get into a groove. If this is how good this show is now, imagine what it will be like as the run progresses.
Think of “She Kills Monsters” for your next date night. And a note to parents: If you take your tweens and teens to this show, with a little discussion beforehand about language, etc., you’ll have something to talk about until Thanksgiving.