Imagine navigating through a world of five-headed dragons, murderous fairies, and maniacal cheerleaders, all while juggling the complexities of grief and personal discovery. That’s the riveting journey audiences will embark upon when Korda Artistic Productions presents the Windsor premiere of “She Kills Monsters” at the KordaZone Theatre starting on September 8. Directed by Valerie Bonasso and assisted by Kristen Siapas, the play promises an unforgettable theatrical adventure that weaves humor, heartache, and a hefty dose of Dungeons and Dragons.
“This story caught my attention from the very first time I read it 5 years ago,” said Bonasso. “There are so few coming-of-age adventure stories written about girls. This play has two completely unapologetic female heroines and several other strong female characters. The story is light and fun while exploring heavier themes of othering and loss. It’s never preachy or in your face, but it gets the point across in a very sincere way that resonates with me very deeply.”
Originally penned by Qui Nguyen in 2011, “She Kills Monsters” tells the tale of Agnes Evans, a young woman grieving the loss of her family in a car accident. Agnes finds solace and unexpected revelations in a Dungeons and Dragons game left behind by her late sister, Tilly. This cathartic quest allows Agnes to not only come to terms with her grief but also to discover the complexity and courage of her sister, who lived her life as a proud, young lesbian.
“SKM deals with grief from a place of honoring the person who has been lost and remembering them in the most authentic way,” explained Bonasso. “Agnes goes from being irritated and sad that she missed the opportunity to get to know her little sister to realizing that, in the telling of her story, she gets to learn new things about Tilly and understand her in a more profound way.”
In an era where authentic representation of LGBTQ2S+ individuals is still woefully inadequate in mainstream storytelling, “She Kills Monsters” stands out for its nuanced portrayals. “A large majority of the people involved in this production live somewhere on the queer or gender spectrum,” Bonasso noted. “The first several days of rehearsal were spent around a table discussing together what it means to be othered. We explored the idea of what it means to live your most authentic life and what are the barriers that keep us from doing so.”
Making its debut during Korda Artistic Productions’ 20th season adds another layer of significance to the Windsor premiere. “It speaks volumes that Korda chose this play to be part of such a milestone season,” Bonasso commented. “It’s a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of social acceptance and representation, yet it also highlights how much more we need to accomplish.”
As for the fantastical creatures that populate this world? “All of the ‘monsters’ that come to life in this play are creatures from the D&D world. We tried to stay as true to them as we could while still keeping a sense of whimsy,” said Bonasso. “I think in the end we managed to create some pretty impressive creatures.”
Balancing D&D’s intricate lore with a theatrical presentation was also a focus of the production. “I am somewhat new to the world of Dungeons & Dragons but most everyone involved this production has some experience with the game,” added Bonasso. “Role-playing games have come a long way since I was a kid. They aren’t just for geeks anymore. Creating new worlds and having the opportunity to live out fantastical adventures has become a very cool way to spend a Saturday night.”
Bonasso’s experience, having worked in various roles from Props Master to Director, brings a multidimensional approach to the play. “Working in community theatre, it’s always all hands on deck,” Bonasso said. “The team that has come together to create this world has been amazing.”
The original play is set in 1995, a period significantly different in terms of LGBTQ2S+ representation. Bonasso saw an opportunity to bridge the past with the present: “The Pride movement’s emphasis was mainly on the LG portion of the ‘alphabet’. Today, it has a broadened focus to more than just the binary. I made a point to cast non-binary, trans & queer actors in roles that in the past they may have been deemed unsuitable for.”
For those unfamiliar with the D&D subculture, the director assures that the play’s themes are universal. “Role-playing games have come a long way. They aren’t just for geeks anymore,” Bonasso explains. “Magic and fantasy are the ultimate form of escapism.”
But what stands out in “She Kills Monsters” is its earnest handling of grief. “SKM deals with grief from a place of honouring the person who has been lost,” says Bonasso. “Agnes gets to learn new things about her sister, Tilly, and understand her in a more profound way.”
Bonasso took an inclusive approach to make sure the LGBTQ2S+ narratives in the play are presented sensitively. “A large majority of the people involved in this production live somewhere on the queer or gender spectrum,” she notes. “We explored the idea of what it means to live your most authentic life.”
When asked about the set design, Bonasso’s excitement was palpable. “Jeremy Burke has designed an incredible set in the form of a giant game board for us to literally play on. The audience gets to visually join in the quest and accompany the actors on their journey.”
As part of Korda’s 20th season, the play’s significance isn’t lost on the director. Yet, when questioned about how she sees “She Kills Monsters” fitting into Korda’s history, Bonasso left the answer open-ended, choosing instead to emphasize that “great adventures don’t have to be filled with magic missiles and 5-headed dragons. They just have to be fun and bring you joy.”
An internship at the Cirque du Soleil International Headquarters has unmistakably shaped Bonasso’s approach. “Cirque approaches its artform very seriously but always with joy and laughter. I take my craft very seriously, but at the end of the day, the point is to have fun.”
The production is a timely arrival for a community and a world still grappling with various forms of loss and identity, promising not just an evening of entertainment but also of meaningful reflection.
“This play caught my attention from the very first time I read it 5 years ago,” Bonasso said, summarizing her journey. “The story is light and fun while exploring heavier themes of othering and loss. It’s never preachy or in your face but it gets the point across in a very sincere way that resonates with me very deeply.”
Don’t miss this heartwarming and hilarious rollercoaster of a play, running from September 8 to September 23 at The KordaZone Theatre, 2520 Seminole Street, Windsor, Ontario. Tickets are priced at $25 for general admission, with a Pay-What-You-Can Night on Thursday, September 14. For more info, visit Korda online.