BY: PARKER SHANNON
Slime mages, succubae, doppelgangers and dragons filled the Cal State Long Beach Studio Theater Saturday, Feb. 18, but emotional themes including love, family, friendship and sisterhood made the most lasting impressions during the California Repertory’s brilliant staging of “She Kills Monsters.”
Directed by Amanda McRaven, this performance of award-winning playwright Qui Nguyen’s comedy gave audience members a glimpse into the surprisingly relatable world of a young “Dungeons and Dragons” fan. The University Players convincingly brought this story to life and made what some may consider an unrelatable subject – tabletop role-playing games – into one that viewers from all walks of life can connect with.
The Studio Theater’s unique square shape and wide walkways allowed the cast to move freely about the room throughout the performance. This freedom of movement added a lot to the experience of the audience as several times during the show cast members interacted with people sitting in the front rows. Tommy Nguyen, who played dungeon master Chuck Biggs wonderfully, opened the night with a great bit of audience interaction. He went around the theatre asking audience members to play one round of a Dungeons and Dragons-style battle with him against a slime mage. His impressive improvisational skills and comfortable back-and-forth with participants worked well to warm up the audience while setting the tone for the rest of the play.
Very rarely did the performance lose that unpredictable-yet-comfortable improv feel, and dialogue between characters was smooth and natural. A large part of that comfortable feeling came from the actors’ well-paced movement around the venue, thanks to movement director Julia Granta Hunicutt. Each character had a unique fighting and movement style that fit their personality and added to the depth of their performance.
In fact, the performances of the cast members were very impressive, and each actor showed incredible range in portraying both their in-game characters and their real-life counterparts. Honestly, I didn’t realize that some of these actors were playing two roles until late in the performance because they varied their mannerisms so believably. One scene in particular had main characters Tilly, played by Julia Beaty, and Agnes, played by Ammy Ontiveros, just goofing around together center stage with no props, music or additional actors. The performances of the actors were so natural that this silent interaction between sisters was one of the most emotional of the night. It felt as though the audience was stealing a glimpse of a private moment in the lives of these two siblings.
As one of the play’s main thematic touchstones, the exploration of teenage homosexuality, bullying and repression was illustrated quite well. Wonderful performances by Beaty as Tilly and Stacey Patino as Lilith honestly and realistically shed light on the difficulties and confusion closeted adolescent homosexuals may go through.
At $14 for students, faculty, staff and seniors, and $17 for general admission, The California Repertory’s production of “She Kills Monsters” in conjunction with CSULB Theatre Arts and the University Players is well worth the price of admission. Its relatable exploration of emotional themes and wonderful performances by the entire cast make for an evening you won’t soon forget.