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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘She Kills Monsters’

No Refund Theatre returns this week with the third production in their spring catalog. This time around, the organization presents “She Kills Monsters.”

Written by award-winning playwright Qui Nguyen, She Kills Monsters sheds light on the struggle for open acceptance within the faultfinding environment of the late 20th century. Directed by third-year student Kelly McGarrey, the production brings honest reflection, heartbreaking reality, and golden humor to the Penn State community yet never forgets its true role of defining the changing world within the many hats worn.

The play opens with undeniable grief that darkens the stage for relieving light. Set in mundane Ohio in 1995, She Kills Monsters first introduces us to decidedly-average Agnes Evans, a 24-year-old school teacher and big sister to the eccentric Tilly Evans. Just as quickly as we fall in love with the expressive Tilly, a young high school student and avid Dungeons and Dragons player, we see her lost to tragedy as a victim of a fatal car accident along with her two parents.

Left alone to pack up their home, a devastated Agnes discovers a game module of Dungeons and Dragons written by Tilly. With a bit of help from D&D player Chuck, Agnes discovers that her sister was an expert player within the mythical world. Upon further inspection of the game module before her, Agnes realizes quickly that life offers only one way to learn who her sister truly was — daring to play the creation left behind.

Within the execution of the custom game module, Agnes copes with the loss of both the little sister she once knew and the mature individual now discovered as the real Tilly. While facing complex realizations such as her sister’s sexuality within the LGBTQ+ community, intense schoolyard bullying, and closeted love interest, the protagonist also discovers a magical world of comedic mythical characters. Meeting a demonic couch potato who collects souls for a living, an emotionally unaware elf, and a representation of her lost sister by the name of Tillius the Paladin, she is shocked by the complexity of the game and Tilly’s world within it. As it becomes obvious that each character within the mythical world represents a key person in Tilly’s life, Agnes navigates the challenges of the D&D universe while rediscovering her sister’s true identity.

A heart-breaking tale of sisterhood, grief, and acceptance, She Kills Monsters strikes through the heart with the passion of humanity only ever imagined on stage by true thespians. Highlighting acceptance as the key to harmony, the show reveals a truth only achieved in top-tier stories: there is always more in individuals than what meets the eye, but the fullest definition of humanity only exists in the acceptance of what lies beneath the surface.

In bringing this complex story to the Penn State community, director Kelly McGarrey knew she wanted to give the LGBTQ+ community the representation deserved by Penn State audiences.

“It’s tricky to find a show at all with LGBTQ+ representation,” McGarrey said. “When I was looking for shows to propose, I was looking for ones that showed LGBTQ+ identities and possibly giving people the chance to showcase parts of themselves that they would typically have to suppress.”

In prioritizing representation with the inclusivity of No Refund Theatre, the director emphasized her appreciation for Nguyen’s work as reflective yet flexible on the spectrum of comedy and tragedy.

“It was the only one that really caught my eye. I liked how candid it was, and how funny it was while also exploring grief in such a cool way,” she said.  “It’s good for people to feel seen in theatre, and it’s good for people to have a mirror to look into.”

With the current environment on campus and the recent outpouring of support for the LGBTQ+ community, assistant director and NRT President Emma Cagle elaborated on the need for representation of queer characters, especially protagonists such as Tilly.

“It’s timely with stuff that has gone on on the Penn State campus in the last semester, and it’s really important to bring that to the stage,” she said. “Kelly’s vision from the get-go has been that this should be a meaningful experience and something that people leave thinking about.”

With an all-star cast of diverse individuals, the message of She Kills Monsters only deepens within the overarching identity of No Refund Theatre as the ultimate environment of self-expression for all individuals.

“There’s always going to be a safe space somewhere in your life,” said second-year Jonathan Yourchak. “For Tilly, it was D&D with her friends. For NRT, it’s being surrounded by all these people who share the same interest as you, and that’s what connects us all.”

Within this designated safe space, the presentation of She Kills Monsters allowed the unique opportunity for fluid identity voices to shine through in the storytelling of the production. A third-year student playing the protagonist role of Tilly Evans, Lizzy Scipione connected the opportunity of representation presented within the show to display on stage the greater mission of the organization.

“This show specifically is a space for queer people to have a place where they can tell their story,” said Scipione. “For NRT, all of our shows grant spaces for different types of people to be able to share their stories in different kinds of ways, and in our favorite way, which is theatre.”

Grabbing ahold of the opportunity for self-expression with a moving portrayal of the troubled protagonist, Scipione tackles the challenge of dynamic performance with grace and wit, all while holding her character close both on and off stage.

“To me, Tilly is really special,” Scipione said. “I’m also a younger sister and I’m also queer, and she struggles with her identity in the show. It’s really special that I’m able to portray her journey on stage.”

After conquering her role onstage with impassioned emotion and eccentric spirit, Scipione encapsulates the role with the knowledge to support the performance. With Scipione being a Dungeons and Dragons player herself, it only becomes more clear as to why she fulfilled the role of Tilly with such excellence against challenge.

“It’s such a special thing,” she said. “For people to be able to express themselves through a different world.”

While many may not know the details of the popular game, Dungeons and Dragons is not only a roll of the dice, but an entire world of magic, legend, and expression for millions of fans around the world. Unabashed self-expression is a key facet of the game, much like the core values of No Refund Theatre for its lifetime at Penn State.

With a simple sentiment on the popularity of the game and the adamant support received by its players, first-year Quintin Sulkowski summarized his character as an archetype for fans everywhere.

“He’s really passionate about what he does, even though it may seem ‘nerdy’,“ said Sulkowski of his character.

As D&D is both a passionate pillar of acceptance for a variety of identities and a fun pastime, the cast even utilized the game as a form of cast bonding. Adding their own characters into a real-life game module, the team came together to form the family environment of the organization. If one looks closely enough at the set, one can even see a bit of the evidence hidden on stage.

“Our old character sheets that we made are in the show,” revealed second-year Ella Bradner.  “The papers you see on the desk are character sheets from when our cast played together.”

In this hidden piece of memorabilia, the audience views NRT’s core values right on stage throughout the production. Reflecting on playing the game and creating the props, second-year student and actor within the show Alexis Dauley spoke about the experience.

“In D&D, it’s so easy to just be your perfect self,” she said. In playing both a magical elf character within the game module and a real-life friend of Tilly, Dauley brought another level of representation to the show- the disabled community.

Representing a character reliant on a wheelchair yet imagined as an effervescent, lightened nymph, Dauley fully portrayed both roles while explaining the idea of wish-fulfillment within the show. As Tilly writes her friends into the game module, she imagines each one with hardship washed away and magic alleviating the stress of their unique realities. In this representation of the disabled community on stage in She Kills Monsters, once again NRT sheds light on marginalized groups in their mission initiative for a more inclusive world.

“I hope people see it,” said Dauley. “And feel more able to just be… themselves.”

In addition to the audience finding an identity on stage, members of the cast found similar self-concepts within their own roles. Much to the match of director Kelly McGarrey’s original hopes for queer representation in her selection of the play, second-year student Laura Spohn elaborated on playing the roles of both Lillith, a confident, queer demon within the game module, and Lilly, a closeted high school student left confused by the loss of Tilly.

“Even though they seem like two different characters, I’ve been in both situations before, so I feel like I was really able to put myself in the characters’ shoes. I get to portray the struggle of accepting yourself that so many teens have to go through, but also the confidence and closure that comes with it,” they said.

“Lily and Lillith could absolutely be the same person, but Lillith is just the result of healthy acceptance and positivity in my opinion,” Spohn concluded.

With results presented onstage of joy renewed through self-acceptance, Spohn conquered the polar opposite roles as smoothly and effectively as any professional. Embracing the theme of welcoming differences from popular norms within the domains of sexuality and expression, a key theme emerged for all communities that fit with ease into the portrait of No Refund Theatre’s message.

“Acceptance,” revealed second-year Maya Fulton. “No matter who you are or where you come from, we are all humans and we all deserve the same respect.”

Within this mission statement of No Refund Theatre, differences are celebrated on stage with unique characters.

“Everybody in the show has their own quirks and their own little things that make them special,” said first-year Cale Blakeley.

As the plot has these different individuals judged harshly within the time period of the show, third-year Isaac Manfull shared advice for the future of acceptance.

“Things hurt, they sting…for a long time, but the worst thing you can try to do is forget about it,” he said. “Learn from it, take it in stride and grow.”

In this mindset, third-year and assistant director Joey Reihart reflected on the inclusivity of 2022 compared to the homophobia of 1995 presented in the setting of the show.

“We’ve come such a long way,” she said, “Be thankful for where we are in the world now,” she said. “We still need to grow, we still need to get better,  but it’s just to show… how far we’ve come.”

An eye-opening representation of acceptance for a better tomorrow, She Kills Monsters will premiere at 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 10, in Forum 111. It’ll also play at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 11, and Saturday, February 12.

As always, No Refund Theatre performances are free of charge. An adult content warning is emphasized for sexual content and violence, as well as a trigger warning for language.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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