When members of Durango High School Troupe 1096 take the stage next week for their latest performance, it will be a show that will stick with audiences long after the curtain goes down.
Set in Athens, Ohio, in the 1990s, “She Kills Monsters” is the story of teenage sisters Agnes and Tilly Evans. Agnes, played by Sophie Hughes, is a cheerleader who is into beauty, boys and music, while Tilly, played by Isabelle Herringer, is the opposite: She’s a Dungeons & Dragons nerd.
When Tilly dies unexpectedly, Agnes realizes she never really knew her sister, who, it turns out, was actually pretty well-known in the D&D community. Agnes finds a notebook she assumes is a D&D adventure Tilly made up and enlists the help of dungeon master Chuck (Braden Helfrich) to take her on Tilly’s adventure.
What starts out as a way for Agnes to learn about her sister’s interests turns much deeper as she realizes through playing the game that the notebook was a lot more than just a game; Tilly – and her close group of friends – was a lot more complex than Agnes had known.
Director Ben Mattson said he first saw the show with his students during the Thespian Convention his first year teaching at DHS. He knew it was a story that would resonate with high school students, especially those who were considered different.
“Everyone loved the show, but it spoke specifically to a sect of my students that rarely got to see themselves, or their stories, onstage,” Mattson said. “Students that felt powerless, ignored, insignificant, ostracized. Students that loved to embrace fantasy, who felt outside of societal norms, and who felt that they were looked at with annoyance or disgust; as monsters. Tilly is a hero, perhaps even a martyr, for every kid who grew up outside of the box, and no other play tackles these themes in such a brilliant way.”
Mattson added that while the show was important for his students, it hit close to home as well.
“Many of my students needed to see this show. I realized after it was over that I needed it as well,” he said in his director’s notes. “This play struck deep into my soul, and helped to heal a part of me that always felt ashamed and scared of who I was.”
While “She Kills Monsters” is a compelling story, Troupe 1096 makes it visually cool, too. The plays swings between real life and the D&D game, where monsters, demons, fairies and elves – a lot of them puppets – battle constantly, making this a physically demanding production. And those ’90s pop-culture references will keep audience members of a certain age snickering.
“She Kills Monsters” is an engaging, entertaining production that takes the audience on a hero’s journey of not only make-believe but of self-discovery, and ultimately, acceptance and understanding of others.
“Perhaps we all keep monsters locked up in the deep dungeons of our soul, in caverns of fear and shame, desperately trying to keep them hidden away,” Mattson said. “I hope that after seeing ‘She Kills Monsters,’ we’re able to slay these creatures by celebrating the magic of exactly who we are.”