A World of Pure Imagination
A masked actor with a puppet on each of his hands becomes a three-headed monster. A thrown stuffed animal lands on an actor’s face and becomes a ferocious creature that seems to have the upper-hand in a battle to the death. It sounds campy but it’s actually just the first few inventive ways The Cuckoo’s Theater Project will be handling the monsters and dragons found in Qui Nuyen’s script for SHE KILLS MONSTERS. When taking over the Prop Thtr space the creative team used their imaginations to bring as much of the epic tale to life as possible and incidentally encouraged us as an audience to use our imaginations as well.
In the program notes Angela Forshee, the director, states, “Our Chicago-theatre storefront aesthetic worked in our favor, encapsulating all of the basements and playrooms that were the holding tanks for our creativity. Our puppets are made of paper and teddy bears, our costumes of nostalgia. We do not want to hide that from you. I invite you to let your imagination reawaken, and join us in this fun.”
This spirit was present in every choice made including how to get falling actors out of the playing space so battles could continue. Where most productions would try to hide these less than graceful exits, this one embraced it by letting actors win some more laughs as they roll/wiggle out of the staging area. This is delightful in the moment and also makes us remember all of those Mel Brooks films we watched as kids (even though we weren’t supposed to).
The Cuckoo’s Theater Project Creative Team
As the show goes on the initial impression when walking into the space begins to make a lot more sense. The Set Designer’s, Bart O’Toole, fake brick wall with two doorways seemingly leading to nothing and what seems to be two good-sized kitchen islands on wheels in the playing space that didn’t seem like much at first gives way to a great backdrop to the world of the play. Marc James pre-show music immediately makes us long for the days of mixtapes/CDs being passed around between friends. The pre-show music tells us we’re going back to the 90’s and starts to plant seeds of nostalgia as it underscores chatter from the audience. James’ design has a few other surprises throughout the show including a remixed version of the Super Mario Brother’s Theme song for those who catch it.
Kai Young’s fights are fun, imaginative, and as quick as the dialogue. Whether an actor is losing a fight to a hand puppet, or using a fellow actor (or a wall) to execute stylistic moves similar to those seen in the original version of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it looks believable enough for the occasional wince or gasp from the audience during particularly intricate fight scenes. During the opening night performance actress Hilary Griffin, whose white tights don’t allow room for kneepads, finished one of the major battles and then continued the rest of the show while bleeding from both of her knees without missing a beat.
The only blatant issue, a design element, was the haze machine that in this writer’s opinion went overboard, making it hard to see a very touching moment. Because it smoked out the moment we’d all been waiting for it wasn’t as climatic as we’d hoped it would be, but it was still somewhat effective as we could make out some silhouettes of actors and were still able to hear the lines.
“Every Adventurer Has a Party”
One of the first bits of advice given to Agnes after starting her D&D campaign is that, “Every adventurer has a party,” and the team assembled for this production is solid. Part of the appeal of the script is that it follows Agnes (Hilary Griffin) on her journey to make peace with losing her sister Tilly (Jillian Leff) via a Dungeons and Dragons campaign found in one of Tilly’s notebooks. Griffin and Leff anchor the cast and set the tone, but everyone in the cast makes an impression whether it’s Madeline Bernard’s Narrator, or Micahel Saubert Jr.’s various scene stealing smaller parts. The entire cast seems up to the task of navigating the complicated emotions that make the play so compelling.
This Show is Geared Towards 90’s Kids But…
While this show could be seen as a love letter to nerds, aspiring nerds, and those of us old enough to remember the 90’s, it’s also got something for everyone. If you’re looking for more shows featuring women leads, wanting to watch some actors fight it out with swords, needing a good cry, or seeking a few good laughs then you should check out She Kills Monsters. While the show is at times hysterical and fun, it’s also definitely tackling grief so some viewers might want to bring a hanky as at least one audience member did begin to cry during the end of the performance being reviewed.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theater in Chicago
Thru April 21
Fridays: 8:00 PM
Saturdays: 8:00 PM
Sundays (Except April 1): 3:00 PM
3502 N Elston Ave.
Michael Saubert Jr.
Elisabeth Del Toro
Sharai Bohannon is a playwright, and an avid theatre practitioner, who is very excited to write about most things but especially Chicago Theatre. She has a background in journalism and technical theatre and is excited that those degrees will be put to use in a way that gives her an excuse to leave her couch and brave this “outside” that people keep telling her about. When not on her couch watching TV, she can be found working one of her multiple jobs and/or hunting down a happy hour near you. Read some of Sharai Bohannon’s New Works on New Play Exchange.