REVIEW of Parkland College Theatre's production of She Kills Monsters.
Get to Parkland's Second Stage Theatre early for She Kills Monsters....Bask in the simple set and intimate 60-seat capacity confines...And take in the music.
Director Mike O'Brien sets the mood for the show with an ultimate 1990's playlist. The last song before the show starts is lyrically and emotionally perfect Losing My Religion by REM from which the lyrics resonate perfectly as if they were sung by SKM's late protagonist Tilly to her sister Agnes in describing how she was living an almost secret fantastic life through her Dungeons and Dragons life and network of friends.
Every whisper, of every waking hour
I'm choosing my confessions
Like a hurt, lost and blinded fool - I set it up
Consider this the hint of the century
What if all these fantasies come - flailing around
I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try
We learn that Agnes hadn't really done much trying in Tilly's lifetime, but upon finding a Dungeon Master's journal among Tilly's belongings after her tragic death, Agnes endeavors to find out what her sister was up to - and ends up finding out who her sister really was.
The insanely talented and versatile Jess Schlipf is perfectly cast as the 15 year old Tilly. Schlipf is known for straddling the real and fantastic worlds in their performance art, so they seem right at home in the fantastic virtual imagined world of their character's own invention. Tilly tells us that the show is "D&D and not therapy" - but it turns out that we find both by the end. Agnes is played by Emma Petitt in her first Parkland and C-U area production. Calling on her vast improv experience and skill, Petitt shows great evolution of character in gradually building an appreciation for not just her sister and sister's world, but also for connection, passion, openness and love. It is awesome how the skepticism we have for Agnes as someone we could possibly relate to and enjoy as a character in the first few scenes, is ultimately inspiring us in battle scenes and moving us to (nearly) tears with some emotional moments by the show's end.
Our journey through this 95 minute one-act masterpiece is led by the Dungeon Master (DM) Chuck - played by Douglas Malcolm (ironically and perfectly, also DM). DM's energy and enthusiasm gives the show such an infusion of electricity from his first entrance, and any Dungeons and Dragons player would certainly want someone like him at the helm of their experiential play. Watching his subtle narrative movements in the "real world" when the action in the "fantasy world" is on the other side of the stage was a real joy and a great reason to see the show more than once.
Every cast member stands out as O'Brien has put together an incredible blend of Parkland student talent, new to the area actors, and veterans of the local theatre scene. Ranae Wilson and Zoe Dunn have been in many memorable shows in the past few years and both shine in their support of the primary characters. Evil Cheerleaders Mariah Smith and Kiah Johnson play off of each other so well and bring humor and tension to each scene they appear in - I really hope that they are going to continue to pursue other projects as our community theatre definitely needs the confident, brazen and brilliant sort of characters those two brought to their roles. Spencer Hazen's repeated appearances as "the great mate, Steve" get laughs every time - it is a testament to his subtlety that each entry seemed to get more and more hilarious. Solomon Robinson is striking and perfectly costumed as the horned Orcus and Michael Ruby has the nuance and serious disposition to pull off the complicated role of someone whose show experience is rooted solely in the "real world". The costuming by Brianna Malotke is worthy of a C-U at the Show Globe and that is especially true with Kelsey Powell's amazonian Lilith. Malotke has full command of the stage in every scene she is in as the D&D character and when you see her contrasting presence in the real world you will check your program multiple times to confirm that is in fact the same person - brilliant juxtaposition and I hope Powell (whose program bio is one of the best I've ever seen) keeps coming out for more and more shows.
Nicolas Shaw once again did great work on lights, and huge props (which there actually were in the show) to Fight Choreographer Miles Norsworthy - the swordplay and battles with axes and staffs is pretty unparalleled from anything I've seen in this area before. Director O'Brien is a master puppeteer and what he has done with the little evil puppet and the dragons is spectacular.
See this show - support local artists and theatres - be safe - live passionately. "Life is a collection of stories" - live theatre enhances that collection every time.
C-U at the Show