“She Kills Monsters” celebrates representation, encourages important conversations

The show runs in Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre Nov. 11-21, and will offer audiences and cast members alike a warm “welcome back” to live performances.


Promotional artwork for She Kills Monsters by student Leslie Ritenour.

by Macy Harder

Between on-stage combat, sword fighting and lots of Dungeons & Dragons lore, “She Kills Monsters” is more than your average coming-of-age story.

The fourth show of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance season touches on grief, sexuality, identity and truth-telling in a unique way that prioritizes playfulness, finding joy and owning your passions. It runs at the Rarig Center’s Stoll Thrust Theatre Nov. 11-21.

The play tells the story of Agnes, a teenager seeking to learn more about her late younger sister, Tilly, through one of the things she loved most in life: Dungeons & Dragons. Agnes immerses herself in the fantasy world of D&D, full of interesting characters and epic sword fighting, while simultaneously uncovering truths about her sister and the difficult realities of grief.

Grace Hillmyer is a senior at the University working towards her BA in theatre on the performance creation track. Hillmyer is taking on the lead role of Agnes in this production, which she said has been a cathartic journey.

“I’ve had experiences with grief as a young person throughout high school and my college years, and I think that there’s definitely been some really emotional, hard moments in the rehearsal process of moving into this character,” she said, “but I also think it’s been very cathartic in a way.”

Hillmyer noted that the story offers a unique perspective into how people deal with death, especially when it comes to the harder parts of a relationship that they now have to reckon with. “That’s been the most eye opening part, I suppose,” she said. “Seeing the journey of a young woman experiencing grief and working through it in a really unorthodox way.”

The show, originally created by playwright Qui Nguyen, debuted in 2011 and has been performed by many different casts in the years since. Although it is set in the ‘90s, the ideas brought forth in this show still have relevance today.

Doug Scholz-Carlson and Annie Enneking are co-directors of this production. They explained that the play brings to light how things have changed since the ‘90s, as well as how some aspects of society have stayed the same.

Scholz-Carlson said the play depicts several topics that will spark conversation among audience members, such as sexuality and coming out, the use and appropriation of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), disability, body image and more.

“The characters have opinions on them and the playwright has opinions on them, and we present the story, and then the audience gets to talk about all of those things,” Scholz-Carlson said.

Enneking echoed the importance of how this play takes on some serious topics. “One of the things that I’ve learned through this process is the idea that just because there’s something crunchy in the play doesn’t mean you don’t do the play,” she said. “It just means you’re provided an opportunity to have a conversation about it.”

Opening the door to conversation about these issues also involves an important element of on-stage representation in the show, which actor Amber Frederick can speak to specifically.

Frederick is a senior at the University and they are playing the role of Lilith (Lilly) Morningstar in this show. “This is the first queer character I have gotten to play, which feels huge,” Frederick said.

“The story of Lilly is very similar to my own. As a young person, your feelings of attraction and romance can be confusing when they don’t align with your peers,” she said. “For Lilly, who’s growing up in the 1990s in Ohio, this is especially isolating, and to see that story onstage is important to how we conceptualize how special and sacred queer relationships are in our society.”

“She Kills Monsters” is one of five productions in University’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance’s fall season, which marks their return to the stage after nearly two years without in-person performances. For the cast, crew and audience members alike, this show will spark joy and provide a warm “Welcome Back” to live theatre.

“You’re bound to have so much fun with us at the show,” Frederick said. “Come see this energizing, badass, heart-filled production with someone you love.”