NIU SOTD brings ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ to life in ‘She Kills Monsters’


Bayan Abuihmoud

From left: Actors Maya Paletta, Emma Mansfield and Emma Vaughn perform “She Kills Monsters” in the O’Connell Theatre in the Stevens Building. (Bayan Abuihmoud | Northern Star)

By Caleb Johnson, Lifestyle Writer

Editor’s note: This piece contains spoilers and discusses events that take place in “She Kills Monsters.”

As people gathered in the theater, fog rolled over the stage, a booming voice cascaded over the audience. The play opened to thunderous applause. 

This past weekend, The School of Theatre of Dance held its final showings for “She Kills Monsters,” a play by Qui Nguyen in the O’Connell Theatre of the Stevens Building and directed by Kendra Holton, guest director and former NIU faculty member. 

Play Review

“She Kills Monsters” is about Agnes, played by Maya Paletta, having to deal with the grief of having lost her family in a car crash and finding out that she hadn’t really known much about her sister, played by Emma Mansfield, Tilly’s life. This sent a powerful message and was very relatable. 

“It’s light-hearted and beautiful, and there’s something everyone can relate to,” said Jack Gordon, a junior acting major who played Chuck. 

While the play itself was definitely more light-hearted in tone, some of the themes are very real. Dealing with a car crash was so devastating for the characters, especially Agnes who ends up teaching at the very school Tilly was a student. The play deals with topics such as grief, strained personal relationships and emotional pain. 

Throughout the play, Agnes begins to see Tilly’s spirit as she plays through her sister’s Dungeons and Dragons. This action causes a split in reality, as Agnes becomes a character in Tilly’s party. Tilly appears like a gladiator, dressed in armor and carrying a sword ready to fight evil. 

This look into Agnes’ psyche is fascinating. The colorful characters such as demons, elves and mages fully take the audience into the fantasy world. 

The magical visions eventually take a toll on Agnes’s mental and emotional state as she starts blending the real with the fantastical when she meets the real people her sister’s fictional characters are based on. 

One scene that comes to mind is when Agnes meets Evil Tina, played by Sydney Hamill and Evil Gabbi, played by Raeanna Tremethick. The two appear dressed as cheerleaders in both the real and D&D-scape. In the fantasy world,Evil Tina and Evil Gabbi are demon succubi, with wings and horns and tails. In a heart wrenching scene they bullied and belittled Tilly for being gay.

In the real world, evil girls are equally as unpleasant. Selfishly they attempted to use Agnes’ grief to buy a memorial for Tilly in the school’s yearbook. Needless to say, Agnes kicked them to the curb. 

These two scenes, both in the fantasy and real-world, were very troubling and tear inducing as being bullied for being gay or needy, or anything perceived as queer can happen quite frequently.

The way Paletta handled the scenes was brilliant. Her facial reactions, her dialogue and emotional reactions all interacted perfectly to convey her anger and pain she felt for her sister. 

Final thoughts

Other key aspects of the play were the visuals and character portrayal.

The final fight featured lights and smoke and a giant five-headed dragon, representing the mythical dragon goddess Tiamat. Each head was carried on long poles by the crew and moved in line with the music 

According to Emma Vaughn, a junior acting major who played Lillith/Lilly, a lot of work went into getting the final boss scene together, as they didn’t have the dragon heads ready until nearly the end of production. The whole cast and crew worked together as a team to get production running smoothly, spending a couple hours a night during tech week to get everything done and running. 

It’s interesting that Tiamat is the final villain. In actual D&D lore, Tiamat is a much more powerful being than portrayed in the play. She’s a primordial goddess that takes the shape of a five-headed dragon, and each head represents different elemental powers. Tiamat is also the mother of all evil dragons. 

Another enjoyable aspect of the play was the duality of seeing the characters in the D&D world and in real life. One of the best parts of this play was how it brought usually imaginary concepts to life.

“I don’t really know anything about D&D, but what I imagine is people just sitting in a room. But this (play) brought it to life, and that was really cool to see, like, the magic of it,” said senior acting student Naava Ofri-Akman

To see such colorful characters brought to life was truly wonderful. One such character, a mage named Steve, played by sophomore acting major Avery Flores, was brilliant comic relief, appearing throughout the play only to humorously die each time.

Another majestic character was the play’s narrator, played by Madigan Balfe. Dressed in a flowing white gown, she had a shining golden headpiece that looked like the rising sun. She appeared to resemble a goddess and her voice had a mysterious quality, like a mystical elf. It truly felt like Balfe had become the character and that was truly awe-inspiring.

NIU School of Theatre and Dance’s next play is “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza. The play opens Nov. 4. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the NIU SOTD website.