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Rorschach Theatre’s production of She Kills Monsters is exactly as fun as a show about young adults playing Dungeons & Dragons should be, and maybe that’s enough to ask for. Heavy on fantastical imagery and absurdist humor, Randy Baker’s take on Qui Nguyen’s play launches his cast into tightly choreographed fight sequences, dance-offs, and the sort of heroic posturing that wouldn’t be out of place in a He-Man comic. The fact that almost all the characters are she-women embracing their femininity is a welcome rejection of the testosterone-fueled sexist rage that engulfs too many corners of Internet fandom today. In between the swordplay and cartoon gore, She Kills Monsters creates a safe space.
Dungeon-diving is the preferred life for Tilly, a shy high school student in 1995 Athens, Ohio, who dies in a car accident in the play’s opening minutes. Tilly’s sister Agnes, a teacher at her school, finds a handwritten D&D campaign in her room and recruits a local nerd to help her play through it. The quest is an Oz-like remix of the real world, with Tilly using the medium to turn her friends, bullies, and darkest secrets into adventuring parties, elaborate mythologies, and bloodthirsty demons.
The cast bursts from all portals of the theater-in-the-round carting medieval weapons, wild costumes, and dialogue that luxuriates in goofy pomposity (D&D, we learn in an opening line, was “forged by the hands of nerds”). It’s hard to imagine any other acting company this season enjoying themselves more than Rorschach’s crew. As Agnes, Maggie Erwin displays solid physical comedy chops, dodging baddies with a bemused attitude and genuine yelps of terror. Robert Pike, playing the dungeon master, gets some great mileage from his character’s outsized self-confidence. Agnes’ party, including the ghost of her dead sister (Rebecca Hausman, with saltine-dry delivery) and a slacker troll who would rather be watching Quantum Leap (Louis E. Davis, a goofy smile constantly affixed to his face), campaign across a set that smashes together a high school, a girl’s bedroom, and a multilevel battlefield, leaving the audience to imagine the flights of fancy in-between.
She Kills Monsters is unabashed nerd theater, a goofy treat for anyone willing to admit they enjoy some fairies, dragons, and gelatinous blobs now and again. Still, even at a brisk 100 minutes—a good 78 minutes longer than that one Community episode with the near-identical concept—the play does wear out its formula. (Maybe it was the fifth swordfighting sequence, the seventh time a character confused a description of D&D for kinky sex, or the 43rd wink-wink blasting of a ’90s pop hit.)
Though he loves his raunchy one-liners (“Violence makes me hot”), Nguyen fails to tease out any new insights about nerd culture: Agnes, like Tilly before her, discovers it’s rewarding to escape the real world through fantasy. Such messaging will always play well with the right crowds, the ones with +3 knowledge of tabletop games. For a more challenging campaign, search elsewhere, but for ye comfort-seeking chain-mail connoisseurs, play on.
1333 H Street NE. $20-$30. rorschachtheatre.com