Too often, the narrative in stories about geek culture focuses on dudes. It fits with the stereotype of what a geek is — some guy in his teens or twenties, covered in residual dust from the powdery snack du jour, slurping down some unnaturally-colored, nauseatingly sweet, caffeinated beverage, while obsessing over a reality far removed from our own, be it a world where superheroes save the day, where clans clash for power in a deadly political system or where daring protagonists go on quests to defeat dragons, loot treasure and get the girl.
That last storyline preoccupies the heroine of She Kills Monsters. Agnes (Bree Pavey), a "normal" girl by all accounts, looks for closure following the death of sister and parents. While packing up her sister's belongings, Agnes stumbles across a homemade Dungeons & Dragons quest, written by Tilly (Lindsey Newell). Determined to get to know her Tilly after her death, Agnes embarks into the world of game, dripping with sarcasm and disdain for geek culture.
Once she starts, Tilly comes to life as Tillius the Paladin, and Agnes is able to role-play conversations with her sister, lessening the estrangement between the two. As the play (and quest) progress, so do Agnes' attitudes towards geeks and geek culture — an idea that's conveniently framed by Agnes' life outside the game, where she works as a teacher at the school Tilly attended, meeting the real-life versions of the characters Tilly transported to her fantasy land in the game.
Playwright Qui Nguyen has created a compelling world that's easily accessible for n00bs (a.k.a. those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of structured role playing games). The story is compact, but skips too quickly over characterization, forcing the actors to fully flesh out their characters without much help from the script. Though the play is mostly action-packed, the pacing slows to a trickle about two thirds of the way through each act, dragging the plot out.
Further complicating the play's delivery is the stage itself. Loft Ensemble's stage is, fittingly, in a loft-style space, which is a refreshing change from many of L.A.'s more claustrophobic 99-seat spaces. The downside to this is that the stage is deep, extending so far away from the seats that the action feels oddly distanced from the audience — it's the opposite of intimate. At times, this works well, given the scope of the narrative, but too often, it keeps the viewers from being fully swept up into the story. The cast also reads as a bit too old for the narrative, which is about 17-25 year-olds.
She Kills Monsters is a much-needed exploration of girl geek culture, and under Tiger Reel's direction, the comedic scenes play quite well. But oddly enough, the play loses its credulity not through its depiction of elves, warrior demons, succubi and dragons but when the plot takes a turn for the overly saccharine towards the end of the second act. It's moving, sure, but the emotional manipulation is too heavy-handed to effectively hit home.
Loft Ensemble, 929 E. 2nd St., Arts District; through May 10. (213) 680-0392, loftensemble.org.
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