Fight like a girl

‘She Kills Monsters’ at Playhouse South

By Don Hurst

Photo: Carly Risenhoover-Peterson as Agnes (left) and Summer Lehman as Tilly in ‘She Kills Monsters’

She looks like a nice person. You wouldn’t believe she harbors any homicidal tendencies, but she does have a bit of an untrustworthy glint in her eyes when Carly Risenhoover-Peterson says, “The best part of the day is when I get to kill my friends.”
And, she’s not alone. The entire cast of Playhouse South’s upcoming production of Qui Nguyen’s “She Kills Monsters” lights up when they talk about beating and stabbing each other. They strut around the set, twirling prop weapons and practicing their disembowelment techniques.

The title “She Kills Monsters” is metaphorical and literal: there are a lot of monsters and there is a lot of killing of said monsters. Fighting grief for her dead sister Tilly (Summer Lehman), Agnes (Risenhoover-Peterson) finds Tilly’s Dungeons and Dragons notebook. The pages throw Agnes into a real adventure through Tilly’s imagination. Along the way, there is more chopping than an Iron Chef marathon.

A lot of directors shy away from heavy action. Combat in live theatre is hard to pull off well. Choreography on stage can’t rely on the same tricks as film like slowing down the frame rates or editing out the less authentic parts. It often looks fake, with slow exaggerated movements, which do nothing to excite the crowd. The ultimate success of this production will largely depend on the fight sequences.

Director Aaron Eechaute-Lopez isn’t worried about that. “Audiences are going to love the fights,” he says. “They’re going to look real.”

Eechaute-Lopez and fight choreographer Dave Bledsoe have worked combat training right from auditions. Just like musicals don’t cast performers who can’t sing and dance, this production team made sure to stock their show with people who can fight. They put prospective cast members through basic fight routines to make sure they had actors who could handle the choreography.

The combat is not some tacked on afterthought. Bledsoe molds the choreography to the cast. “The mechanics have to be natural to the actor,” he says. “If I force a movement because I saw it in a movie and it looked cool, it’s not going to work on stage.”

Fight rehearsals and character development work together to flesh out each individual performance. Bledsoe and Eechaute-Lopez work with the actors to ensure the action feels true to their character. Each one engages in violence differently. “They all have their own styles,” Bledsoe says. “Lilith flows while Tilly is a paladin brawler.”

Katherine Blum, playing Kaliope, agrees: “My character is super stoic; she never smiles. That’s not me at all. The fighting is how I really started to figure her out. These weapons we carry become extensions of our characters.”

For some members of the cast, this was the first time they have ever smacked somebody. To get the actors comfortable with violence, Bledsoe spent early rehearsals having them beat each other with their props.

The production uses intricately detailed, realistic looking foam weapons for the fight scenes. Bledsoe prefers them to steel replicas. “You can take a lot more chances with foam,” he explains. “The fights are faster, safer, and more realistic. Actors don’t have to worry so much about getting hurt.”

“It’s so much fun trying not to get whacked in the head,” Lehman says.

The cast has learned the choreography so well that Eechaute-Lopez and Bledsoe have added more complicated maneuvers. “It’s not just one-on-one,” Bledsoe says. “We’ve got switching partners and even group tactics. We’ve also worked in some of the special feats from Dungeons and Dragons that fans of the game will recognize, like cleaving. Stuff’s getting cleaved on stage.”

Fans of tabletop fantasy games will find plenty of inside jokes to keep them entertained. Even if you’ve never rolled a D20 and you don’t know the difference between a kobold, owlbear, and lich, you can still enjoy the show. “I’ve never even played a game of Dungeons and Dragons before, but I still found this play damn funny,” Eechaute-Lopez says.

“Even though Tilly dies in a car wreck, the laughs don’t die with her,” Risenhoover-Peterson says.

“She Kills Monsters” is not just a comedic slugfest, however. “The show hits you in the feels,” Lehman says.

The script deals with loss and the tragedies that drive us to seek escape. “If we’ve done our jobs right,” Eechaute-Lopez says, “the audience is going on a ride.”

Playhouse South presents ‘She Kills Monsters’ by Qui Nguyen Sept. 9 – 10 and 16 – 17 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m. at the Clark Haines Theater in the Barnes Board of Education Building, 3750 Far Hills Ave. in Kettering. Tickets cost $15 for standard admission or $13 for seniors, military, and students. For more information, please visit or


Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

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Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at

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