When you get new bells and whistles, you need to show them off in the right way.
So Jason Pasqua, theater director at Laramie County Community College, knew it was time to go big for the first production in the all new Surbrugg/Prentice Auditorium. That means capitalizing on the high-tech sound system, new capabilities in LED lighting, projection and opportunity for a larger set.
“We want to blow the doors off the place – really show people what we’re about,” Pasqua said. “There was huge energy at the beginning of the process. There still is, honestly.”
The Surbrugg/Prentice Auditorium, or SPA, is better suited for larger productions. The original LCCC Playhouse will still be used for productions that require a more intimate setting, but this doesn’t mean that the SPA, with all its fancy capabilities, is little more than just a pretty face.
Flashing lights and walls of sound are great, but the show at hand must still have a human core if it’s going to mean anything.
“The technology, the abilities, the lights and the sound give us these capabilities, but they all have to be used in the service of good storytelling,” Pasqua said. “They’re just tools in the toolbox.”
If this rings true, then the show that Pasqua chose is a fitting introduction to the new venue.
“She Kills Monsters” is a unique production. At first glance, its description comes across as silly, but once the cast puts the story into motion, it becomes quick, witty and surprisingly impactful.
It follows the journey of Agnes, a college student entering the world of “Dungeons and Dragons” in search of her little sister, who died in a car crash along with Agnes’ parents.
“This is a play that is very much about how we deal with grief,” Pasqua said. “It’s a play about loss, it’s a play about growing up. You’ll see characters that are trying to wrestle with what it means to make a commitment to something.”
The story follows Agnes through her struggles in the real world, but mostly takes place in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. There she meets the heroic (and sometimes evil) alter ego’s of real life acquaintances.
The two were estranged before Tilly’s death, but playing the game gives Agnes a final chance to reconnect with her sister.
Agnes is out of place in her new world, but Tilly, a notorious figure in the world of D&D, pushes her to persevere. There are plenty of sword fights, fantastical characters and fun subversions that keep the show all very fresh and cohesive, despite the eclectic components.
More than anything else, it is lovably nerdy.
Much of the attitude comes from the bratty and sarcastic Tilly, two defining traits that actor Rebecca Padget herself added to the character.
“She gets frustrated with her sister easily, she’s in her own world,” Padget said about crafting her character. “She’s portrayed in the show as this absolute badass, so I tried to add a little bit of ‘badass-ery’ in there.”
It is technically a comedy, with one-liners that land and over-the-top performances that work within the attitude of the play. The material trends toward a more mature audience.
However, the true heart of the play is the story. Padget was able to find her character and tap into the emotional core of the entire work to an effect that she finds truly impactful.
“I can tell you that every single time I have run this show, by the last scene, I’m crying,” Padget said. “Every time I walk off the stage, and it’s the end of the show, I’m wiping tears from my eyes.”
“She Kills Monsters” is self-referential and honest. Set in 1995, there are regular jokes poking fun at commonplace occurrences from the time period, yet the dialogue still feels fresh while drawing laughs from the small audience that attended the rehearsal.
“It’s such a powerful play,” said Michaela Ricciardi, who portrays Agnes. “It’s not what you’re expecting because you see ‘She Kills Monsters’ and think it’s about a girl who plays D&D, but it’s a little bit more than that.”
Ricciardi wasn’t initially sold on the concept.
“Then I actually read the play and fell immediately in love with it,” Ricciardi said. “It marries comedy and drama so beautifully. It can make you laugh, but it can also make you feel something.”
What gives the production such a wholesome personality is the connection the cast was able to form with one another, specifically between the two main characters.
Prior to this production, Padget and Ricciardi had never met, but by the end of rehearsals, they had become good friends.
“We read the characters and just immediately clicked,” Ricciardi said. “We had people from the theater coming up to us being like, ‘You guys knew each other before this, right?’”
The camaraderie they built up fortifies their nerves just a little, but it there is still a weight to being the cast and show that will go down as the first production in such a massive addition for the theater program.
The fact that they get to perform together makes them less nervous, and bolsters their confidence to rise to the occasion. If somebody makes a mistake, the rest of the cast is there to support them.
And in the creation process, the cast ribs each other and comes up with new gags and jabs that, if funny enough, draw plenty of laughs in the final product.