Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Cast member of SHE KILLS MONSTERS. Photo by Candice Lee Conner.
By Bec Willett
Qui Nguyen’s SHE KILLS MONSTERS is a hilarious play full of energy and heart. I can’t deny that, as far as scripts go, it ticks off a lot of boxes on my personal checklist: women being awesome, badass fight scenes, puppets, theatrical storytelling, all with an admittedly sappy (yet somehow inescapably heartwarming) story about love and reconciliation between grieving sisters.
I’ve been told some years ago this play was produced at Steppenwolf. I didn’t see it, and you won’t read a comparison to it here. The producers of this production are Cuckoo’s Theater Project a storefront theatre company with very different budgets, goals, and audiences. Regardless of how Steppenwolf’s may or may not have manifested, Cuckoo’s production is evidence of the commitment and joy that drives the engine of Chicago storefront theatre.
For the cast of this show, from the sisters at the core of the story (Jillian Leff and Hilary Griffin) to the evil cheerleaders and puppeteers (Liz Lengyel and Keyanna Khatiblou) it’s clear that these actors love performing this play. Yet, with such fast moving scenes loaded with action (as any good role-playing game should be!) the cast has some difficulty in consistently reaching the emotional depths to fully juxtapose the tragic against the comic. Despite this, they make up for it with excellent comic timing – especially in Matthew Torres’ performance as the incorrigible game master Chuck and Lakecia Harris’ animated take on guidance counselor Vera.
Angela Forshee’s direction is celebratory in its approach to both content and relationships. Yet, with more support from the scenic design, could have more clearly established place, thus making the transitions between the real world and the Dungeons and Dragons world easier for the audience to immediately access. While missing scenically, this differentiation in worlds and the humor of the text are found and emphasized by Kai Young’s fight choreography and Joan Pritchard’s costume design.
Even if you’re not someone who’s passionate about role-playing games, Nguyen’s SHE KILLS MONSTERS has the power to grab hold of both your heart and your funny bone – and Cuckoo’s Theater Project production has found just the right amount of spirit to pull it off.
SHE KILLS MONSTERS runs through April 21st. For more information visit thecuckoostheaterproject.com.