Finding real sisterly love in a fantasy world: ‘She Kills Monsters’ at Morristown High, Dec. 1-4

Haven McGuinn, Allie Miller, Nelson Santiago, Isabel Manning and Elisa Manning in 'She Kills Monsters,' Morristown High, fall 2022. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

If you have brothers or sisters, you know how intense sibling rivalries can be. Chances are, in the heat of some moment, you have imagined life as an only child.

Be careful what you wish for.

In She Kills Monsters, this weekend’s student play at Morristown High School, the character Agnes Evans (Elisa Manning) must turn to the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons to appreciate her deceased sister Tilly (played by Manning’s sister, Isabel).

The Evans girls are jarring opposites: Agnes, the popular high school cheerleader with the football heartthrob boyfriend; Tilly, the embarrassing nerd chasing mythical dragons with her fellow geeky misfits.

After Tilly’s tragic death, her D & D “Dungeon Master” (Noah Potian) hands her diary to Agnes. The discoveries and revelations begin when Agnes reluctantly immerses herself in the storylines and characters crafted by her sister.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions:

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Swordplay abounds as “Tilius the Paladin” — Tilly — leads a baby-eating dominatrix (Haven McGuinn), an elfin supermodel (Allie Miller), a devilish Orcus (Nelson Santiago), and “Agnes the Asinine” across an imaginary landscape dotted with such destinations as the Mountain of Steepness and the River of Wetness.

A deranged fairy (Ashlyn VanRy) is dispatched with a Magic Missile. There are pitched battles with dancing Succubi, shape-shifters, doppelgängers, and a Gelatinous Cube.

Behind the scenes at ‘She Kills Monsters’: Colonial Corner video:

A rudimentary acquaintance with Dungeons and Dragons may be helpful for playgoers. More essential, perhaps, is the knowledge that Qui Nguyen, who wrote She Kills Monsters, found refuge in the 1974 game when he was bullied as a Vietnamese immigrant growing up in the American south.

Nguyen’s D & D adventures were peopled with monsters and princesses inspired by his high school tormentors and crushes.

As Agnes deduces identities of the real-life outcasts who underlie her sister’s fantasy world, a poignant picture emerges of the real Tilly she never knew.

A hundred students have labored on this ambitious production, which features nifty sets and costumes, and mature themes about gender identity. Director George LaVigne choreographed the fight scenes. James Gulisano oversaw the set design.

We don’t know how the Manning twins get along for real, but their onstage friction is convincing. The Cama sisters, Julia and Charlotte, are campy fun as evil Succubi. And Shannon Burns is brash and self-assured as Tilly’s best friend. She triumphed over adversity in a competition as a kid, and it’s wonderful to see her thrive onstage.

She Kills Monsters will run for four performances:

  • Thursday, Dec. 1st at 7:00 pm
  • Friday, Dec. 2nd at 7:00 pm
  • Saturday, Dec. 3rd at 7:00 pm
  • Sunday, Dec. 4th at 2:00 pm

Tickets are $8-$15. Morristown High School is at 50 Early St. Read more about the show here.

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