With its dance battles, giant dragon puppets, 1990s pop culture, homicidal fairies and nasty ogres, "She Kills Monsters" is described as "a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all." The ISU Theatre dramatic comedy opens Thursday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m.
Penned by award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director Qui Nguyen, "She Kills Monsters" has become one of the most produced plays in the United States, from high schools to professional companies. The story follows a young woman, Agnes Evans, on a journey of grief and understanding as she begins to unlock mysteries about her deceased little sister Tilly. As Agnes pursues Tilly's secrets from their hometown of Athens, Ohio, into the thrilling world of Dungeons and Dragons, the show jumps between reality and action-packed fantasy.
Performances are March 30-April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and April 2 at 2 p.m. in Fisher Theater. Tickets are general admission ($20 for adults and free for Iowa State students and youth). This show contains adult language and content and flashing lights. For ticket information, visit theatre.iastate.edu.
Cason Murphy, assistant professor of theater and the play's director, said theater is perfect for telling a story involving role-playing games.
"The play is a clever, joyous celebration of the act of getting together with others, imagining wild scenarios full of vibrant, unique characters, and collaborating to craft a compelling, meaningful story, all while hoping a random roll of the dice doesn't completely derail the entire endeavor," Murphy said.
The magic behind a multiheaded dragon
A student puppeteer ensemble will create a fantastical game world on stage with large-scale puppetry designed by associate professor of theater Amanda Petefish-Schrag.
Mia Nollet, sophomore in environmental science, is the puppet captain leading the group. With such giant puppets, teamwork and safety are big priorities as it takes a group of eight puppeteers to operate the fearsome, multiheaded dragon puppet, Tiamat.
"In rehearsal, we use breathing to help us connect with each other," Nollet said. "Onstage, the puppeteers use group breathing, sound cues and our limited sight to operate our puppets, which has been a very fun challenge."
Petefish-Schrag said it's been exciting to see the students collaborate to create a single, unified character on stage.
Empathy, resilience, and community
Kaitlyn Meylor, who plays the role of Agnes, said the cast has the best camaraderie of any show she's been part of -- and she hopes that fun translates to the stage.
"I hope the audience laughs super hard at all the silly jokes we make, but I also hope to connect with them on an emotional level," she said. "This show means so much to me personally, and it has touched my heart in ways I can't begin to explain. I hope that it touches the hearts of the awesome people that come to see us as well."
While the show is sure to bring laughs -- and you don't need to be a Dungeons and Dragons fan to enjoy it -- Murphy said the play's themes of grief, queerness and quiet heroism also offer profound insight for these times. The story creates healing spaces for people facing individual loss or trauma and opportunities to celebrate human dignity and inclusivity.