Review by Caitlin Boutwell, Ursuline Academy Cappies Critic Team
It's time to grab some friends, dice, and your local dungeon master. Mason High School's production of “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition” merges the playful geekiness of “Dungeons and Dragons” with the somber story of sisters Agnes and Tilly Evans.
Rewritten by Qui Nguyen in 2016, “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition” follows Agnes Evans as she copes with the death of her sister, Tilly, through playing Tilly's favorite game, “Dungeons & Dragons.” While playing the adventure game, Agnes meets Tilly's fictional friends: Kaliope, Lillith, and Orcus. Trouble is revealed once Agnes realizes that her sister's adventure is more than make- believe, and it starts to influence the reality of Agnes's life.
Mason's production of “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition” utilized extensive fight choreography and the emotional range of the leading cast to propel a story that frequently changes settings from reality to imaginary. The production overcame the challenging layout of a thrust stage to effectively produce an entertaining and emotional show from all angles.
The cast is centered around the performances of the two sisters: Jessica Burns as Agnes Evans, and Mia Karlsson as Tilly Evans. Burns served as the connection between the fantastical elements and grounded reality of the show. Her authentic portrayal could be seen through the fear, surprise, joy, and grief across her character's development. Karlsson gave an equally amazing performance that captured the many facets of Tilly's personality. Both girls shined truth onto the struggles and smiles of being sisters as Agnes learned to accept all parts of Tilly.
The sisters were also supported by other wonderful actors portraying their friends. Ben Ginsberg as Chuck provided comic relief as the Dungeon Master of Tilly's story. He helped Agnes understand the depths of her sister's game, yet still reminded her that “Dungeons & Dragons” is supposed to be fun at its core. Miriam Shrivastava also delivered a wonderful performance as two characters: Lilith, the strong and intimidating demon queen; and Lilly, a shy and meek classmate of Tilly. The entire cast grunted and whimpered their way through the many choreographed fight scenes, displaying great commitment to the monsters and humans they played.
Notably, the playlist and scene transitions for the show were fitting and efficient. The Sound Team from Jordan Rose, James Hendricks, Nolan Krimpenfort, and Sarah Burwinkel played 90's hits like "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls" by TLC as the background music to fight scenes. This added humor to an otherwise serious situation occurring on stage. Stage Management/Stage Crew handled their numerous scene changes with finesse and ease. Crew members were hardly noticeable between the dark lighting and the short time span of the change.
Ultimately, Mason High School's “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition” examined and exposed the ways in which people can relate to each other regardless of barriers, even if it is one between life and death.
Review by Hannah Stansbury, Ursuline Academy Cappies Critic Team
The magical, dangerous world of "Dungeons and Dragons" was truly brought to life by the cast and crew at Mason High School in an exciting and stirring performance of “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition. ”
In “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition” Qui Nguyen takes his original play, “She Kills Monsters,” and puts it in the context of teenage life. Set in the 1990’s, it tells the story of high schooler Agnes Evans as she embarks on a journey to discover more about her recently deceased sister, Tilly, through a game of "Dungeons and Dragons," crafted by Tilly herself before she passed. As the game progresses, Agnes and friends explore the difficulties that Tilly faced in everyday life as a high schooler, such as bullying, questioning sexual orientation, disabilities, and self-identity.
Mason High School's production was an overall success, combining bold and brave character choices with skilled and well-executed tech elements. The final result was an action-packed environment where anything seemed possible.
Leading the show were Jessica Burns and Ben Ginsberg in the roles of Agnes Evans and Chuck, respectively. Burns and Ginsberg performed with excellent chemistry as Burns brought powerful, raw emotion to intense scenes where Agnes mourned the death of her sister, and Ginsberg brought much- needed comic relief and moral support as Chuck guided Agnes through the unique game of "Dungeons and Dragons."
An additional standout performance was Mia Karlsson's energetic, fierce, and sometimes tearful portrayal of Tilly Evans. Representing the geek inside us all, Karlsson was unafraid to display a wide range of emotions from a broken, bullied teen to a fierce, respected warrior.
Adding to the overall ambience of the show was the ensemble of the play, deemed The Monster Squad. Portraying many different monsters in battle scenes throughout the show, the members of The Monster Squad were unafraid to grunt, growl, and snarl at their opponents, and even the audience, bringing the threat and danger of the monsters to life.
The performance, however, would not have been the same without the spectacular tech elements. The sound team implemented perfectly- timed sound effects and comedic, yet time period appropriate, background music during battle scenes and throughout the show. The detailed, dungeon-like set created the perfect environment for a story centered around the game "Dungeons and Dragons."
The cast and crew of Mason High School's “She Kills Monsters, Young Adventurers Edition ” put on a thrilling, emotional, and brave performance through dedicated and detailed character choices and technical elements.
Review by Iris LeCates, Walnut Hills High School Cappies Critic Team
In this version of “Dungeons and Dragons,” there is no clattering of dice. Character sheets, maps, and spellcasting cheat sheets are not scattered across a tabletop, and the adventurers are not seated calmly around a dining room table. In William Mason High School's “She Kills Monsters,” the villains of “Dungeons and Dragons” come to life in vibrant costumes as the players battle them with swords rather than attack rolls. Accentuated by 90's rock and dazzling lights, this production takes the magic of “Dungeons and Dragons” (DnD) and realizes it on the stage.
“She Kills Monsters” is the story of Agnes Evans, a girl from Ohio, who loses her younger sister, Tilly, in a fatal car crash. Desperate to know the sister she'd never bothered to understand in life, Agnes turns to Chuck, a local dungeon master, who decodes a module written by Tilly prior to her death. As Agnes and Chuck embark on Tilly's adventure, Agnes comes closer to her sister than ever before— and learns that perhaps there are some parts of Tilly that she will never be able to know.
Jessica Burns played the role of Agnes Evans with wonderful sincerity and grace. She navigated the world of grief expertly, allowing it to guide her performance (even in scenes with otherwise positive tones) as a subdued emotional undercurrent. She also played well with Mia Karlsson as Tilly Evans. The duo walked an emotional tightrope with heavy humor and sarcasm, often dodging the deeper implications of their words. During intense moments, such as the scene where Evil Tina and Evil Gabbi beat up the sisters, both delivered brilliant performances. Karlsson portrayed a desperation to be understood, and Burns countered with the yearning of someone unable to understand.
Tilly's module is populated by several of her friends, including Kaliope (Ria Narang), Orcus (Nicholas Krouse), and Lilith (Miriam Shrivastava). Kaliope's grace and mystical aloofness was charming, and Orcus was as hilarious as his reputation was fearsome. One of his funniest moments was during a dance battle with the evil fairy cheerleaders, when he enthusiastically mouthed the words to "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" while hitting every choreographed move perfectly. The final character in the party is Lilith, played by Miriam Shrivastava, who rode the dynamic shifts between Lilith, the “Dungeon and Dragons’” character, and Lilly, Tilly's friend, excellently. She brought an incredible amount of emotional depth to the production, especially in a final moment of emotional sincerity when she heartbreakingly explained to Agnes how much love she held for Tilly.
The tech for “Kills Monsters” established the world of “Dungeons and Dragons” and constructed the era of the 90's excellently. The set was relatively simple; the floor was painted to resemble stone, and several platforms were carved from foam to resemble jagged rock. It was static but effective, emphasizing the world of “Dungeons and Dragons” without distracting from scenes set in the real world. The outline of a D20 towered over the stage, and was both well-made and complementary to the rest of the set. The sound was excellent, shifting from “Dungeons and Dragons” instrumental music to 90's rock seamlessly. Although a few of the cues were called late, the sound was a great success and overall, one of the best elements of the show.
Most of William Mason High School's production was centered around the creation of the world of “Dungeons and Dragons.” Terrifying monsters fill the pages of the script and, thanks to excellent technical elements, popped out of the text and onto the stage. However, the characters of the show portray that “Dungeons and Dragons” is about more than monsters and swords— it's also about the family you make.
Excerpts from Top Reviews
“Jessica Burns as Agnes Evans, and Mia Karlsson as Tilly Evans, beautifully carried the plot with their dynamic and nuanced relationship. Burns flawlessly presented the caricature of a typical high school cheerleader and effectively characterized her journey to learn who her sister was. Opposite her, Karlsson fiercely portrayed the complex dichotomy of Tilius, the brave paladin, and Tilly, the shy and geeky high school freshman. Through her emotional scenes, she artfully conveyed themes that many teenagers struggle with and added layers of complexity to a seemingly ‘geeky' tale.”
- Reeya Dighe, Walnut Hills High School
“A standout technical aspect could be found within Mason High School's Sound Crew. Well suited to the era, the Sound Crew provided background fighting songs from the hits of the 90s, and was on point with sound cues to the actions on stage. The costumes helped to differentiate reality from the game and were exceptional when it came to the mythical beings. The sets, though minimal, served to provide clear observation of the action”
-Nicole Magliocco, Ursuline Academy
“Miriam Shrivastava was the person who was given the biggest challenge and succeeded the greatest. Given two roles,( Lilith was a powerful she-demon who feasted on the bodies of her enemies. and Lilly was a shy Gap employee who was scared to admit who she truly was), she played each with emotion and fierceness.”
-Abby Elmore, Ursuline Academy
“All of the technical elements of this show were fantastic. For example, the props crew, led by Mia Adrian and Anna Kirby, designed the props for the game scenes after actual “Dungeons and Dragons” miniatures. The Tiamat figurine, along with the playing table, felt very true to real examples of the game's figurines and boards. The costumes, with crew leader Catie Brutvan, were very detailed and unique to each character. The stark differences between reality and fantasy--such as denim on denim to a sparkly black dress--show the thought that went into each costume. Finally, the sound crew knocked it out of the park with the soundtrack and sound effects. It is integral to have perfect sound effects at exactly the right time, and they did an amazing job adding comedy through well-chosen songs, such as the “Friends” theme.”
-Berkley Dixon, Ursuline Academy
“The cast and crew's boundless energy and dedication to the authenticity of the performance truly stood out and helped enthuse and involve the audience in the story being told. Each member of the ensemble was as enthusiastic as most of the lead actors and brought exciting elements to the performance. The chemistry between Agnes Evans (Jessica Burns) and Tilly Evans (Mia Karlsson) was genuine and instilled Agnes's own grief at her sister's death in the audience members, as well as tied the cast together, as a whole, around the two sisters.”
-Julia Van Schaik, Ursuline Academy
“Effectively supplementing the actors were the technical elements. For example, the beautiful, monochromatic set by Sarah Burwinkel, Lowri Dunkirk, Elizabeth Mitan, and Ashley Cook brought the focus to the actors and the plot. The small details, from the incorporation of the “Dungeons and Dragons” dice to the textured rocks, made the set true to the play's world. By mixing authentic gaming music with classic music from the 1990’s, Jordan Rose, James Hendricks, Nolan Krimpenfort, and Sarah Burwinkel brilliantly set the mood of each scene while highlighting the time period. Finally, the stage management and crew, led by Sophia Palermo, Anna Fuson, and Eric Reigelsperger, made swift scene changes that sustained the show's quick pace.”
-Elizabeth Volk, Saint Ursula Academy
“As Agnes's dungeon master, or organizer and storyteller of Tilly's game scenario, Chuck, portrayed by Ben Ginsberg, was both an anchor and a delight of the show who brought comedic relief to every scene. His outlandish dance moves and awkward, yet endearing moves on Agnes, never failed to evoke a smile. With both authenticity and potency, Mia Karlsson brought the essential emotional depth to the role of Tilly Evans. She was able to demonstrate both anger and hurt in her character's temperamental outbursts while also elucidating Tilly's struggle with gender and sexual identity”
-Claire Yoder, Loveland High School
About The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati
The Critics and Awards Program strives to recognize Greater Cincinnati’s talented community of young writers, performers, and technical crews. High school theatre and journalism students who participate in the Cappies program are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, and write and publish reviews. At the end of the school year, the student critics vote to give awards to their fellow students for outstanding productions, group and individual performances, and achievements in technical categories. Awards are presented at the annual Cappies Gala. Find more reviews at CinciCap.com/reviews.