By Ahmed V. Ortiz
We all battle our monsters. Some are within, some without; some are real, some imagined. And some we might not recognize as monsters until confronted by them.
She Kills Monsters, written in 2011 by Qui Nguyen, is the comic yet bittersweet tale of Agnes Evans, a high school student grappling with the death of her family, but primarily that of her younger sister Tilly, whom Agnes shunned as mostly a nuisance during her lifetime. A new perspective emerges when Agnes finds Tilly’s notebook for Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing fantasy game where Tilly found an oasis from her life on the margins.
The play, which runs Wednesday, Oct. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 3, is the main stage production on Sacramento State’s fall arts schedule. Also included are three annual productions: SacDanceTheatre, this year titled Higher Ground, which opens the stage schedule Wednesday, Sept. 18, in Solano Dancespace (Solano 1010); the Festival of One Acts, featuring single-act plays produced by students and faculty; and the University Dance Company’s annual celebration of American concert dance, Dance Sites. More information on Theatre and Dance, including season schedule and tickets, can be found online.
Director Michelle Felten, a professor of Theatre and Dance, considered staging Monsters last spring, but the logistics were too daunting for the size of production she planned. The timing works out well this time, she said. D&D’s popularity has seen a resurgence, buoyed in part by the Netflix hit Stranger Things. “It was the perfect timing for it,” Felten said. “There’s such an interest in monsters and gaming and cosplay.”
Stephanie Conrad, a scenic painter, helps prepare the production of She Kills Monsters, which is expected to be a highlight of the University's performing arts season. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price).
About those monsters – literal ones are of course at the heart of D&D, and several are slain by Tilly and Agnes. But the play’s content suggests something metaphorical.
Liam Worrell-Olson, who graduated last spring and is serving as assistant director, agreed. He says the play’s real monsters are universal troubles such as grief, depression, and loss that manifest not as people “but as emotions and experiences.”
“I think there is some survivor’s guilt,” Worrell-Olson said.
Agnes early in the play wishes for a more exciting life. The accident immediately follows. “She wished her life was different,” Felten said. “And it became very different.”
The siblings’ fraught relationship is the show’s driver; its emotional tenor at times turns on a dime from mirthful to maudlin. But it’s filled with enough light moments, 1990s pop culture references, and general D&D-ness to tickle a viewer’s inner geek throughout. Also woven in are chords that strike inclusion and sexual identity, another timely element given the University’s emphasis on being welcoming to people from all walks.
To bring it to life, Felten needed not just the right time but the right crew to create the production’s elaborate monsters and coordinate its many fight scenes. Enter Stephanie Conrad, a scenic painter who brought the dragons to life, and fight scene coordinator Chris Kamas, a senior Theatre major who played Black Stache in last fall’s Peter and the Starcatcher and has a background in boxing and jujitsu.
“After the experience as an actor with Michelle, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be on the other side of the stage apron,” Kamas said.
“There’s a buzz – there’s an excitement about doing something different,” Felten said. “It’s going to be an exciting show.”
Sac State’s sixth annual bonanza arts and humanities celebration combines the creativity and scholarship of the College of Arts and Letters’ nationally heralded faculty at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento’s premier arts and culture facility. Museum members and Sacramento State students, faculty, and staff get in free.
Typically held in October, this year’s U-Nite! moves to 5-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21. Few specifics have been finalized, but a preview will be published as the event date nears. Read about last year’s U-Nite.
The Festival of New American Music returns for a 42nd year Sunday, Nov. 3, through Sunday, Nov. 10. This year's Gala Concert features pianist Michael Mizrahi, New York-based Cygnus Ensemble, and Sacramento State’s new music ensemble-in-residence, Citywater. Composer Frank Ticheli, whose works will be presented by the University Chorale and Symphonic Wind Ensemble on Friday, Nov. 8, is the keynote speaker. The Festival closes featuring Sac State's noted Jazz Ensembles with guest trumpeter Dave Douglas. Many other performances and artists are slated. Read about it here and check out the full schedule.
The remainder of a lively lineup features the Piano Series, which kicks off with Sac State Music Professor Richard Cionco on Saturday, Sept. 21; faculty recitals; South Indian music by vocalist Sandeep Narayanan on Saturday, Nov. 2; and numerous guest artists, led by husband-and-wife team Amy (bassoon) and Scott Pollard (marimba/percussion) performing as the Col Legno Duo, who play Thursday, Sept. 19. Read more about the music season and purchase tickets.
Events and gallery hours for the Department of Art can be found on the University’s primary events calendar. Uncheck the boxes in the left navigation until only Department of Art is selected to narrow your search.
For media assistance on any of Sacramento State’s arts programs and events, call the University’s Communications office at (916) 278-6156.