Review by Taylor Kendal
In a time where the future of live performance has been put into serious doubt, the performing communities around the world have striven to work together in so many ways to ensure that the spark of theatre does not die out in what has to be one of the most trying years of our lifetime. This includes adapting and creating new ways to bring performance to an audience, as illustrated by New York City’s Bluebird Theatre Company’s production of She Kills Monsters.
Written by Qui Nguyen, this production of She Kills Monsters is adapted from his original 2011 script to suit a modern audience and to take the leap from stage into the virtual world. Broadcast live on YouTube, instead of the audience gathering in a theatre, they are sitting comfortably in their own homes taking part in what has come to be an all too recognizable format; a Zoom call. Having the actors in various spaces while performing the same piece can often seem a little ambitious, and at times perhaps a little jarring, especially for a work that had not been originally written for such a setting, yet the cast work together to adapt the best they can to go on with the show.
The story revolves around Agnes, an ‘average’ girl who on the one year anniversary of her younger sister Tilly’s death, tries to get to know her better by playing her sister’s Dungeons & Dragons campaign. As a lover of all things ‘geeky’ and of D&D itself, this concept to me seemed so intriguing and one that I certainly hadn’t seen before. The concept of using D&D actually translates rather well with the necessary virtual setting, with the need to incorporate the use of improvisation and skills of creativity and imagination to create the world of the campaign.
Throughout the story we meet Tilly’s campaign party, including a Demon Queen resembling a leather clad dominatrix, a supermodel-esque Dark Elf, and a Demon of the Underworld that holds onto lost souls, all of which are wary of Agnes’ need to venture into this world that she never took the time to understand while Tilly was alive.
It becomes rather clear early on that while the story is engaging and incredibly unique, it is lacking a certain element that perhaps could only be achieved on the stage. The cast rallies what they have by means of costumes and the use of green screen technology, but one can’t help but wonder just how the story could be told with more. That being said, the format does provide a good way to shift between Agnes’ real life, and her search within the campaign as she struggles to face her battles both figuratively and literally.
The characters are heavily referenced stereotypes of the typical high school scene, but that doesn’t stop them from having an important place within the realm of the story, and Agnes’ quest, both in the real world and not. A group of characters that can feel relatable, whether you know them or you are them, is a comfort in many ways. Though I will say that my heart goes out to The Great Mage Steve, who can never seem to catch a break!
As with any use of digital media, there are moments where it can be unreliable. Cast members in different spaces with different equipment can sometimes provide a lag in delivery of dialogue, and differences in the quality of microphones, but it’s really nothing that can detract too much from the performance. There were a few sound issues, mostly in regards to music, but they were quickly handled, and didn’t affect the flow of the story. The use of green screen is always tricky, yet for the most part the cast pull it off extremely well, especially for the final battle.
Overall, the story has great heart and beautiful morals. It reminds us that not everybody lives in the same world as each other, and that we need to take advantage of the time that we have while we have it, because none of it is promised to us. It deals with themes of loss and the idea of reality verses fiction, and the worlds that we tend to create for ourselves to use to cope with the harsh realities that people are often left with after people are gone. The entire cast and production team, headed by Raelle Myrick- Hodges and Bar Silberstein, should feel incredibly proud of taking something and adapting it during a time of such uncertainty to bring a beautiful piece of art to the masses in such a unique way, and that in trying times, we can and will be ready to kill our own monsters.