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SOU theater stages Qui Nguyen's 'She Kills Monsters'

Before Agnes Evans leaves her childhood home after the death of her family in a car crash, she finds a Dungeons & Dragons module that belonged to her dead sister — a geeky high-school student named Tilly — and stumbles into the imaginary world of discovery and action-packed adventure that was Tilly's refuge.

What follows is playwright Qui Nguyen's "high-octane dramatic comedy filled with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres and '90s pop culture that offers heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all," according to the Samuel French website.

Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Feb. 15-17 and Feb. 22-24, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, in the newly remodeled Black Box Theatre, 475 University Way, in the Theatre Arts Building at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. A discussion will follow the Feb. 24 matinee. Tickets are $21, $18 for ages 60 and older and $6 for full-time students, and can be purchased at oca.sou.edu/events or by calling 541-552-6348.

"Just like the title, 'She Kills Monsters,' there's a lot of combat fighting," says Jackie Apodaca, who directs the SOU production. "When Agnes is whisked into the role-playing game, she fights monsters and deals with magical creatures. She's sort of on a hero's journey with her sister."

U. Jonathan Toppo, resident fight director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, worked with the SOU cast for the play's fight scenes.

The drama shifts back and forth from Agnes' everyday existence and her time playing the game. In real life, her family and her sister are gone. She has a boyfriend who isn't quite a fiancee because she can't quite make the leap, and she's at her job, Apodaca says.

"She wants to know her sister, and the game is all she has left of her," she says. "Only by going into it does she see and learn more about Tilly. Though she's drawn in, she thinks the game is stupid because it's too geeky.

"I think the play looks at the bridge between who we want to be, who we imagine ourselves to be and who we are," Apodaca says. "The thing about Dungeons & Dragons is that it's imaginary terrain. It's all in the imagination."

On that cue, set designer and SOU student Sophie Block puts the audience into the world of Dungeons & Dragons with a grid-like mat that lays over the floor of the Black Box Theatre and extends into the audience.

"So we're all in the game," Apodaca says. "It sort of curls up the back wall so the audience is in the middle of it."

Costume designer is Makayla Royer.

"We've gone an esoteric way with the costumes for the monsters," Apodaca says. "They all wear black and D&D T-shirts, like a game-playing T-shirt, and each monster has one prop to distinguish it from the others. Most in the cast plays a monster at some point because there are so many of them.

"As opposed to trying to do a film-style version on a "Lord of the Rings" budget, which we could never hope to achieve, instead we embrace what Dungeons & Dragons really is, which is all in your imagination. There are no expensive props."

The show is recommended for ages 12 and older. There are mature themes and language and haze and smoke in the performances.

Hannah Fawcett, Martha Thatcher and Rachel Routh appear in Southern Oregon University's production of 'She Kills Monsters.' [Photo by Greg Eliason]