March 23 2016 12:41 AM

‘She Kills Monsters’ delivers nerdy fun, strong performances

Unlike real life, it’s virtually impossible to die in a roleplaying game. There are spells and extra lives — or if things really get hairy, you just restart the game. But what happens if you die and your game character is all that’s left behind? That’s the core idea behind Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters,” a quirky, nerd-culture comedy staged by Ixion Theatre. The production values are low, but the humor is sharp, and the play has plenty of heart.

After 15-year-old Tilly Evans (Storm Boyer) dies in a car accident, her older sister, Agnes (Katy Kettles), stumbles across a “Dungeons & Dragons” quest written by Tilly. Unlike a diary, this quests must be played to unlock its secrets. This requires other players and a “dungeon master” to oversee the quest. Enter Tobin Bates as Chuck “Dungeon Master” Biggs, a cocky but hilarious high school nerd who brings the quest’s world — and Tilly’s character — to life. Agnes is joined on the quest by Lillith (Monica Tanner), Kaliope (Danica O’Neill) and a host of other characters. As Agnes delves into the fantasy game world, she learns about her late sister — and herself.

By far, the strongest aspects of this production are the stellar performances by the cast. Bates is perfect as Chuck, the quintessential gaming nerd who is the master of his own domain. With preposterous dialogue and personality to match, Bates could easily turn Biggs into a cartoon caricature. But instead, he makes Biggs feel like a real person. Tanner, O’Neill and Allison Simmons, as the evil fairy Farrah, have a similar challenge, playing the live-action version of Tilly’s fantasy characters. Fortunately, everyone plays their characters straight without falling into campiness.

Costume and prop designer Sadonna Croff deserves credit for the sharp “cosplay” costumes. Lillith and Kaliope, particularly, look like Amazonian warrior princesses as imagined by a 15-yearold, complete with mystical battle weapons. Fight choreographers John Lennox and Ian Griffin staged some fairly elaborate battles. On the other hand, other technical and multimedia elements, such as a spotlight and short video clips, feel cheap and distract from the production. It’s clear that the cast and crew are working hard with what they have.

Overall, director Jeff Croff keeps his production light and flowing. The energy dips in some scenes, but the audience at Saturday’s sold out show was locked in. You don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy “She Kills Monsters,” you just need to be open to fun.


“She Kills Monsters”

Ixion Theatre 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26; 7 p.m. Sunday, March 27 $15 Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing. (517) 775-4246, ixiontheatre.com

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