Actors rehearse for Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters,” which opens Friday, at McPhetres Hall on Monday night. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

Actors rehearse for Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters,” which opens Friday, at McPhetres Hall on Monday night. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

A present-day story of sisterhood, grief, and Dungeons and Dragons

Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters” opens Friday, with free previews Tuesday and Thursday

And now for something completely different from Theatre in the Rough: “She Kills Monsters,” a dramatic comedy with adult themes written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

The play that opens Friday, with a free preview performance Thursday, is a big departure for the theater company which in 32 seasons has nearly completed the entire Shakespeare canon.

“With everything that is happening in the world, all the divisions, hate speech, bullying, ostracism, and attacks on humans in our community who are and identify differently, we decided to head-on with these issues head on,” said director Katie Jensen. “It’s also a fantastically fun play and funny.”

“She Kills Monsters,” written by Qui Nguyen, is about a woman who experiences the sudden loss of her parents and little sister in a car crash. Agnes begins to play a module of Dungeons and Dragons written by her sister, Tilly, who she hasn’t been close to in recent times. The game explores issues of gender and sexuality, as the play pivots between reality and the imaginary game. Agnes gets to know Tilly better while working to overcome her grief.

A large puppet takes center state during a rehearsal of Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters,” which opens Friday, at McPhetres Hall on Monday night. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire) (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

A large puppet takes center state during a rehearsal of Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters,” which opens Friday, at McPhetres Hall on Monday night. (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire) (Meredith Jordan / Juneau Empire)

The play, which has been staged in high schools and colleges more than 800 times, and its adult themes have been the subject of controversy. In 2021, the superintendent of an Ohio school district canceled the play, saying it had a potentially gay character and hence wasn’t appropriate for K-12 audiences. But a GoFundMe sprang up and raised $5,000 to stage it elsewhere, and the show went on.

Nguyen wrote a version of the play called “She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition,” which turned Tilly into a cheerleader and uses less profanity. Jensen said they are producing the original two-act play and there are “some bad words.”

“She Kills Monsters” “has a lot of emotion, with high drama, and high fantasy action I didn’t think you could do in theater,” said Gwen Mitchell, who plays Tilly. It’s about sisterhood, and the relationship between the two characters, but there is a lot more to it. “I think the audience is going to understand it and I think they’re going to be pretty impressed.”

Jensen co-founded Theatre in the Rough with husband, Aaron Elmore, in 1991, and they serve as co-artistic directors. The division of labor for “She Kills Monsters” has her directing, handling costume design, sound design, dance choreography and office duties, including marketing. Meanwhile, Elmore provides set design, fight choreography and puppetry, among other things.

Elmore is known for his puppetry, but his work on “She Kills Monsters” takes it to another level, Jensen said. “It’s more like moving statues.”

The show culminates with a colorful giant dragon that takes up the entire stage, and more, and takes nine people to run it. The fight scenes, played out with the fantasy backdrop, are also compelling. It helps that as a Shakespeare company, Theatre in the Rough has staged more than a few sword fights, another area of specialized training for Elmore.

“The vehicle is the Dungeons and Dragons game, but the story is about the two sisters and Agnes really getting to know her sister Tilly,” said Jenson. She has an emotional tie to the play, and it spoke to her the first time she read it.

Jensen said she suffered the loss of a twin brother when she was very young. “It’s a very specific and tender kind of pain when you lose a sibling young.” She felt she also lost her parents, because they were not the same after. “I would have loved it if there was a magical world where I could get to know him better than what I did,” she said.

•••••

Know & Go

What: Theatre in the Rough’s “She Kills Monsters.”

When: At 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 28; Saturday, July 29; Thursday, Aug. 3; Friday, Aug. 4; Saturday, Aug. 5; Thursday, Aug. 10; Friday, Aug. 11; Saturday, Aug. 12. At 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6; and Sunday, Aug. 13. Free preview at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 28. Pay-as-you-will show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3.

Where: McPhretres Hall, 325 Gold St.

Admission: For mature audiences. Adult themes and language. More details at theatreintherough.org. Tickets are available online at https://jahc.na.ticketsearch.com/sales/salesevent/15655, in person, or at the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council or Alaska State Museum.

• Contact Meredith Jordan at meredith.jordan@juneauempire.com.

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