Coupeville student fantasy play examines real-world issues

— Created May 3, 2023 by Kathy Reed

Photo Courtesy of Stefanie Ask, Coupeville High School
The Coupeville High School production of “She Kills Monsters” features all the fantasy fun of Dungeons and Dragons as well as real world issues facing students today. The play will be performed May 11-13 at the Coupeville High School Performing Arts Center.

By Kathy Reed

It’s 1995. Agnes Evans has just lost her family in a tragic accident. Never close to her younger sister, Tilly, Agnes tries to get to know her better by playing a Dungeon and Dragons module Tilly wrote before her death. Enlisting help to play the game she has now inherited, the journey reveals much about her sister Agnes never knew.

That is the basic storyline of “She Kills Monsters,” a production of Coupeville High School’s theater classes. The play, written by Qui Nguyen, will be on stage at the CHS Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 11 through Saturday, May 13. Tickets are available at the door and are $10 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for students with ASB. A word of caution – young or sensitive viewers should be aware “She Kills Monsters” contains stage combat, depictions of bullying and mild language.

“This show is a mix of comedy, drama and action,” said Stefanie Ask, CHS theater teacher and the play’s director. “While there are certainly heavy moments, there’s also levity, sword-fighting and surprising twists.”

Ask said one of the fun things about this show is the nostalgia factor that should resonate with those who remember the 1990s.

“The play sets itself firmly in the year 1995 with style, music, and jokes that speak directly to my own time in high school,” she shared. “But also, the fact that the story showcases the power of storytelling and table-top role-playing games speaks to not only my own life and interests, but also that of my students. It’s hilarious to see my students rock out to LL Cool J in the same way I did when I was 16, and the show really showcases how much the high school experience is the same, whether set today or almost 30 years ago.”

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Ask, Coupeville High School

As fun as the 90s references are, nearly everyone who has gone through high school can also identify with some of the more difficult aspects of that period in one’s life.

“There are some difficult scenes of bullying in the play, but that’s a fundamental part of one of the character’s experiences,” said Ask. “This production is really meaningful to my students because it showcases some of the real hardships of being in high school. Whether set in 1995 or today, bullying is an issue that everyone experiences at some point. The fact that our characters triumph over hardships through friendship, humor and games – that’s something I think is relatable and important to everyone’s experience.”

The story of “She Kills Monsters” is written in a way that features the characters in their “real lives” as well as their fantasy characters within the Dungeons and Dragons game. Students involved in the production said they appreciate the characters’ depth.

“Everyone has a motivation and a dream,” said senior Birdie Sinclair, who plays Agnes. “They aren’t all just there to move Tilly and Agnes along. [And] I relate to Tilly and Agnes’s relationship a lot. Being a sister myself, the way Tilly (played by fellow senior Wynter Arndt) and I act together on stage just comes naturally to me. I really see my sister and I in their story.”

One of the factors the play focuses on is what it’s like to be or feel different from one’s peers. Some of the actors said they found it easy to identify with the characters being portrayed.

Photo Courtesy of Stefanie Ask, Coupeville High School
Featuring sword fights, monsters, a throwback musical accompaniment and more, “She Kills Monsters” will take audiences on an adventure. The Coupeville High School production runs for three nights only, May 11-13. Above, cast members Peter Bieda and Birdie Sinclair fight, while Wynter Arndt, Adrian Burrows, Milo Socha, and Sydney Wallace watch.

“I play Lilith/Lily,” said Adrian Burrows, a senior. “Lilith is a demon queen in the D&D world [where] she is ‘close friends’ with Tillius. In real life, Lily is in a shy, closeted-queer struggle with her identity and is feeling lost. I love the realness of the characters’ queer experiences. Unfortunately, being from a small town, being different comes with a lot of challenges and watching the characters overcome the challenges is moving. There is such a realness about being different. There is always a push to be normal and like everyone else, and this play breaks the status quo.”

“This play is very fun but also extremely heartbreaking,” said Wynter Arndt, who plays Tilly, Agnes’ younger sister. “Agnes learns throughout the show to deal with her grief. This story is very easy to relate to, especially since I am the younger queer sister, I can definitely relate to Tilly’s story.”

“As a queer person myself, I know that I, along with many other queer people, feel connected to this production because of it telling the story of a closeted queer high school girl, albeit in the 90s,” said senior Milo Socha, the assistant director who is also playing the role of Orcus, a demon, and his real world counterpart, Ronnie. 

“This show has a lot of underlying messages about self-acceptance, and I think that’s super important to see in a high school,” continued Socha. “I’m not much into D&D, so I like this play for its story. I like the world-building and character development a lot, but what I enjoy the most is getting to act it. The conversations and witty remarks that happen between the characters in this production are some of the most natural and fun lines to play.”

All of the student actors who responded to our questions said they have enjoyed learning stage combat and have liked creating/finding props and costumes. They said audiences should find plenty to enjoy about “She Kills Monsters.”

Photo Courtesy of Stefanie Ask, Coupeville High School
Freshman Sydney Wallace is the creator of the original promotional poster for the Coupeville High School production of “She Kills Monsters.”

“This play is chock full of Dungeons and Dragons references for all the nerds in the audience, and for those who aren’t familiar with D&D, the 90s nostalgia alone will hopefully bring a smile to their faces,” Sinclair said.

“I hope the audience likes everything about this play,” said Arndt. “But most of all I hope they take the lesson that Agnes, Tilly and the others learn to heart.”

“For the people who were teenagers in ’95, I hope they laugh at the jokes and references,” Socha said. “For the queer people in the audience, I hope they connect with the characters. For the nerds, I hope they enjoy the D&D elements, world, and characters that this production, and our actors, bring to life. And for everyone else watching, I just hope that they laugh, cry, and have fun.”

“I hope that ultimately, [audiences] appreciate the message about family and about how being different isn’t such a bad thing,” Burrows said.