Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Humboldt Department of Dance, Music, and Theater | Stephan Chittenden as Miles, Evan Pierce as Chuck, Miah Carter as Agnes, and Priscilla Cuellar as Kaliope, Lexi Takaki in the background as a creature.

She Kills Monsters: not a Nat 20

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by August Linton

In the hours before I attended the opening night of She Kills Monsters, I was excited. Live theater has been absent from my life, and the chance to see people perform a play was one I relished. But I didn’t enjoy this production for many reasons, mostly stemming from an amateurish air, and a lack of sensitivity in its queer representation.

Certain elements of the show’s queerness were successful. The relationship between Tillius the Paladin (Geneva Bell) and Lilith the Demon Queen (Kyrstie Obiso) and their real-world counterparts was surprising and wonderful in its intimacy. As someone who was a nerdy gay teenager, I saw myself in their fear, their yearning. It affected me to see a gay kiss on stage— I hadn’t before. Queerness often intersects with desire to escape into fantasy, and I saw that genuinely represented in She Kills Monsters.

The decision to cast one of the succubus villains, Evil Tommy (played by Oliver David) as a gay man felt strange considering the role this character occupies. The character is regularly called Evil Tina and played by a female actress. I found myself uncomfortable and struggling with cognitive dissonance as an obviously queer-coded character bullied, screamed slurs at, and borderline sexually harassed another character. 

The stage combat, too, left me wanting something more. It’s evident that the cast spent blood, sweat, and tears on choreographing and practicing the show’s many fights, but many stretched my suspension of disbelief. Swords swung three feet from their targets, while victims lowered themselves to the ground rather than falling. A show with such a focus on its fights deserved better.

The production design, however, impressed me and greatly increased my enjoyment of the show. The boss monster props especially charmed and impressed me. The undulating fabric-covered frame of the gelatinous cube, intensely staring papier mache orb of the beholder, and numerous large dragon heads of the final boss fight wow and amaze in cinematic fashion. 

Other elements of the production seemed unfinished or fell flat, including sometimes jarring sound design and inconsistent costuming. This gave She Kills Monsters a distinctly high school play feel, despite the myriad uses of the word fuck. 

The age of She Kills Monsters as a script showed in its dialogue and in its ideology. Released in 2011 and set in 1995, it has many elements and jokes which fell flat. Why does the main character Agnes (Miah Carter) treat her sister’s gayness with disbelief and fear? The politics of dating and marriage in Agnes and Miles’ (Stephan Chittenden) relationship also felt dated, and weirdly emphasized. And what was with that joke about Miles touching his girlfriend’s younger sister?

Despite this, Bell and Obiso as Tilly and Lilith were two standouts, bringing a wide variety of attitudes to their characters in both the real world and the dream world. The character of the Great Mage Steve (Maverick Cheney) deserves a special shout out for being a consistent source of laughs every time he flopped onto the stage to be killed in yet another gruesome way. Vera (Elena German) also very much embodied the role of high school guidance counselor, and drew laughs with her creative use of a rolling chair. However, much of the ensemble’s acting didn’t impress me, lacking physicality and emotion. She Kills Monsters has an emotional core of loss and drama that felt smothered by the production’s issues.

At the end of the show, about a quarter of the audience stood up, attempting to trigger a standing ovation. It didn’t happen.

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