When high school worlds collide
Long before World of Warcraft, Harry Potter or video game roll-playing entered the cultural stratosphere, one fantasy world stood above all others — Dungeons & Dragons.
Referred to by most as D&D, the Dungeons & Dragons world dates back to 1974, when a pair of friends got together and put their tales of fantasy into a tabletop board game.
Since then, D&D developed into something of a cultural phenomenon, an outlet for young, imaginative minds, gamers and geeks alike to immerse themselves in the world of elf hunters, dragons and sword battles.
This marks the setting for the delightfully poignant, and occasionally powerful, Iola High School production of “She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition,” which runs tonight and Friday at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.
Admission to the 7 p.m. shows costs $5 at the door. The production is geared for middle-schoolers and older, largely because of the sexuality and mortality themes the play explores.
MEET AGNES, a prototypically popular high-schooler. She’s a cheerleader, has a boyfriend on the football team, and a best friend who works at the Gap.
She doesn’t much connect with her younger sister, Tilly, who has found herself at the opposite end of the social spectrum. Awkward, shy, struggling to find her clique. She does so through the world of fantasy: Dungeons and Dragons. There she becomes a fierce warrior alongside her closest friends, Lilith, Kaliope and Orcus.
Their disconnect doesn’t much bother Agnes, who figures her sister’s gaming is just a phase. There’s plenty of time to connect once she matures.
Alas, that doesn’t happen. Tilly is killed in a car accident.
THE PLAY takes it from there, as Agnes, portrayed wonderfully by Lexie Vega, discovers her younger sister’s old D&D notebook, and takes it to whomever can help her learn more about her younger sister.
She does so at the local game shop, where she meets Chuck, as charismatic and macho as any geek around, who happily agrees to serve as Agnes’s Dungeon Master, or guide, through her sister’s writings.
Henry Lohman shines as Chuck, who jumps at the chance to introduce a high-society senior into the D&D realm (He’s just a freshman). He brags to Agnes about his dial-up internet connection — the play is set in 1995 in small town, Ohio — and is eager to help Agnes learn more about Tilly’s thoughts and background.
OTHERS aren’t as excited. Isabella Duke, Josie Plumlee and Jon Poffenbarger are a delight as the aforementioned Lillith, Kaliope and Orcus. They derisively refer to the newcomer — “noob” for short — as Agnes, the Asshat when she hesitates in developing her D&D characters name.
What follows is a wondrous mixture of scenes, enmeshing real life and make believe.
Tilly, the effervescent Haley Carlin, reappears as her D&D character, as Agnes embarks on her Dungeons & Dragons quest.
The journey touches on a number of themes central to any high-schooler: bullying, classism, sexuality, etc.
Parker Smith offers up a perfect blend of oafish machismo as Miles, Agnes’s football star boyfriend. Likewise, Gabriella Lampe is Vera, best friend to and fiercely protective of the vulnerable Agnes. She’s not much fond of Miles, and befuddled (at least at first) of why Agnes has suddenly taken a shine to the world of D&D roll-playing.
And any true story of heroes and warriors also must rely on a powerful villain. “She Kills Monsters” has two — Desiree McFadden and Elanie Sturgeon. As Gabbi and Tina, the pair are devastatingly brutal, in more ways than one.
As Agnes unlocks her sister’s many thoughts and secrets, she begins to understand the role others in school have become central characters in Tilly’s role-playing saga.
Rounding out the cast are Emily Ator, Austin Morris, Zareona Pulley, Miah Shelby, Eliana Stiffler and Kelli Stogsdill as a wide variety of monsters Agnes, Tilly et al must encounter along the way. Eve Ard, in particular, is a hoot as Farrah, an evil fairy.
“SHE KILLS Monsters” gets its heart, undoubtedly, from the tour de force performance from Vega, who brings the audience along on her emotional quest to draw closer to a sister she never got to know in real life.
Vega, who has shined in a number of supporting roles up to now, is more than capable as the leading lady, exuding equal parts regret and curiosity as she explores her sister’s past.
The heart-touching, and occasionally hilarious play (courtesy of ’90s themed cultural references and some well-timed battle scene sight gags), is directed by drama instructor Regina Chriestenson.
As an added bonus, several pieces of D&D-inspired art decorate the Bowlus lobby.