'She Kills Monsters' explores the fantastical world of D&D at the Onyx Theater at KSU

The Beholder monster from KSU’s production of “She Kills Monsters.” (Courtesy of Estrella Dearborn)

 For the unfamiliar, Dungeons & Dragons, also known as D&D, is a highly successful game in which players can create deeply intricate characters and plots within a group. Participants are plunged into a multi-layered fantastical world filled with goblins, wizards and more, and players become a central character in their own story.

She Kills Monsters” is a stage play that explores the world of D&D from an unusual and nuanced perspective. Currently on stage at the Onyx Theater at Kennesaw State, the production is running from Oct. 11-16, and director Jim Davis, puppet designer Cedwan Hooks and student actor India Smith joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes to talk more about their play’s nimble dance between fantasy and realism.

Interview highlights:

The story of Agnes, a bereft sister willing to step outside her comfort zone:

“At the beginning of the play, her family dies tragically in a car accident, and so she really has to come to grips with that, and is dealing with her grief and her relationship with her family, in particular her little sister, Tilly. They always had kind of a tough relationship; whereas Agnes was kind of mainstream and normal, Tilly was a weirdo and a geek,” said Davis. “Agnes comes across a Dungeons & Dragons module Tilly had created – a Dungeons & Dragons map, an adventure – and she wants to play it so she can get to know her little sister, who’s unfortunately no longer around, better.”

Davis went on, “She goes to the local Dungeon Master, a guy named Chuck who is a weirdo, and they play the game. And the production really kind of splits in half. Half of the play is in the real world, where she’s dealing with her friends and her boyfriend, but the other half is in Dungeons & Dragons world, and there are monsters and sword fights, and it’s big and loud and crazy… Ultimately, she gets more of an understanding of who her sister really was.”

Extraordinary puppet creations inspired by D&D lore:

“We’ve got a five-headed dragon, a Beholder that has one great big eye and a bunch of eyestalks attached to them, and a number of other monsters that are just amazing,” said Hooks. “We’ve gotten really ambitious with our design and fabrication of, for instance, the Beholder… He’s about eight feet tall and really wide, in a big wearable suit that has all these big ol’ hand-painted eyeballs on the front and a moving mouth. It’s pretty fun. The dragon is the show-stopper, though. It’s a big rod puppet that is above the puppeteers on long rods, and it has a moving mouth and extendable wings that flap, and there’s about six puppeteers on it, working all five of the heads and holding the puppet up in the air, and a person back on the tail.”

India Smith on connecting with her character Tilly:

“When you’re a 15-year-old girl trying to figure out your life, and trying to figure out who you exactly want to be and your identity, you don’t understand that you’re going to change your identity 40 different times before you’re actually gone,” said Smith. “When you have an outlet where you can go somewhere and be anybody you want to be, create anything – I really respect Tilly for going out and doing that. I think [Tilly’s D&D character] Tillius embodies that strength and that fearlessness that Tilly doesn’t have, or couldn’t acquire, while she was alive. Tillius is just fearless, and Tillius really shows how fearless Tilly is.”

“She Kills Monsters” is on stage at Kennesaw State University’s Onyx Theater from Oct. 11-16. Tickets and more information are available at https://calendar.kennesaw.edu/event/she_kills_monsters.