“Girl nerds are the rarest kinds of nerds.” So says a girl, just stage right, illuminated by the spotlight, mysterious, in a hooded medieval gown, introducing the audience to “She Kills Monsters” premiering Thursday Nov. 14, at American Canyon High School.
“She Kills Monsters” is a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. D&D for short, it is a game that came out in the 1970s and gave geeky and nerdy high school kids from Irvine to Scarsdale something to do in their parents’ basement on nights when the more popular kids were out partying.
It was the first famous “role-playing game,” a type of game where players assume a character, and role play that character throughout the game. The game is set up by a Dungeon Master, who sets the ground rules. The players first assume characters—bard or cleric, druid or paladin—who have certain powers or constraints. Then they have adventures, basically telling each other stories about what is happening.
When they come to a crossroads, the Dungeon Master will roll a special die—sometimes six-sided, sometimes 20—that will determine who dies, or who lives, or whether they can unlock the treasure chest. Games have been known to last days and can be all-consuming.
The play centers on Agnes, played by Daniela Wilder, whose sister, Tilly, dies in a car crash before the play begins. Agnes never knew Tilly that well, but when she is cleaning out her room, she finds a D&D playbook written by Tilly. Not knowing what it is, she takes it to Chuck, played by a totally geeky Jakob Welch, who explains it to her. Chuck and Agnes then begin to play the game Tilly has written, and the adventure unfolds on stage.
Qui Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American playwright, chose to set the play in Athens, Ohio in 1995. So, sprinkled into the plot are many references to the “whatever” generation: musical acts that were huge in the ‘90s—The Cranberries, Smashing Pumpkins, 10,000 Maniacs and George Michael; and the TV shows—ER with early George Clooney, Quantum Leap and Twin Peaks.
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The thing about ACHS’s production, however, is that the juniors and seniors in this production were born in 2001 and 2002 and the cultural references may be lost on them. So, if you came of age in the ‘90’s, and want to feel the pleasure of reminiscing about our decade — as we are just now have aged enough to have had a decade—and have a personal connection to what these young actors are saying that you know they don’t, go see this play.
However, this play would have been impossible for Generation X to perform because of one — or three—- reasons: three out of four main characters are lesbians. Agnes finds out from playing the game that her sister likes girls. Tilly, as a Paladin, leads a trio of thin, beautiful, devilish, lesbian warriors who brandish swords and axes and shields. They harass demons, are seduced by cheerleader succubi and outwit a forest fairy. They are strong, unapologetic women who are perfectly happy in a world without testosterone or chest hair.
There is no hint of shame or embarrassment over these characters’ sexual orientation. It’s taken for granted, and even celebrated. “Coming out” stories have been so overdone that they are now clichè — things that are no longer taboo are no longer dramatic.
The play itself has a strong, confident lesbian story that is not about repression, persecution or self-discovery and that this play is being performed in a high school, and typically high school students are at the apex of their intolerance. These students are anything but and take seriously the play, as a play, regardless of the sexual orientation of the characters.
Times certainly have changed.