D&D reimagined for stage

Kate Clark

The cast and crew of the Forest Roberts Theatre’s upcoming show “She Kills Monsters” are bringing to life the mystical world of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the original fantasy table-top role-playing game published in 1974.

Anthony Viola/NW From left to right, freshman theater majors Jill Vermeulen and Laura Thompson and junior theater major Amanda Woods rehearse.
Anthony Viola/NW
From left to right, freshman theater majors Jill Vermeulen and Laura Thompson and junior theater major Amanda Woods rehearse.

“It was very intense learning the choreography because I was holding a real weapon in my hands that could potentially hurt someone,” freshman zoology major and female lead Cecelia Holt said.

Written by Qui Nguyen and set in the ’90s, the show follows Agnes, a teacher who finds her recently dead sister’s D&D notebook and decides to play her character.“She embarks on this adventure so she can find her sister, and in more ways than one, finds herself,” Holt said.

The challenging fight scenes were rehearsed first, she said.“I had done no [stage] combat, so I was completely new to the work,” Holt said. “But learning how to use a sword and a dagger made me so happy.”

Director Shelley Russell designed the costumes for the show and choreographed the 14 fights, which are based on D&D.

She said while the combat was challenging, it wasn’t the most difficult aspect.

“The amount of onstage combat meant that the cast needed to strengthen and learn a good deal of stage fight techniques,” Russell said. “But the greatest challenge has been to build a dragon which would fill the Forest Roberts’ stage. And that took a big team.”

Russel said the group that created the giant dragon included crew as well as some cast members.

“These people really deserve attention,” she said. “They have put in the hours, and the result is impressive.”

Along with the dragon, “Monsters” features cheerleader succubi, a dark elf, armor, swords and “a demon princess who is described as a ‘leather-clad dominatrix,’” according to Russell. But outside of the game these characters become nerds, geeks and high school cheerleaders, Russell said.

“It’s about relationships, letting yourself play and allowing yourself to be who you really are,” she said. “It’s a little rough and surprisingly moving.”

Imagining and building the world of “Monsters” for the stage is what Russell said she most enjoyed.

“Most of what we do lives in a realistic world,” she said. “This is partially set in [the] real world of ’90s-normal, but most of it is in an imagined world with all manner of monsters.”

This production is not trying to be a movie though, Russell said.

“We’ve worked to create something very theatrical, where the actors create monsters out of this game, who speak, fight [and] sometimes dance,” Russel said. “It hasn’t been done.  It didn’t come with instructions.  We just jumped in and started throwing [around] ideas of image and texture and character and hopefully, it’ll work.”

“Monsters” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 16 to Saturday, April 19 with a matinee at 1 p.m. Saturday.