Dungeons, dragons and the friends we make along the way

Like the protagonist in “She Kills Monsters,” first-time director Jamey Moriarty has embarked on an epic journey of self-growth.

“At the outset, I felt responsible for all of the elements of the play. But the more I have brought people into the process, the more I have learned my role is to ask for help and accept it when it comes,” said Moriarty, who is the production assistant at Orcas Center and an experienced performer. “This is a big bucket list item for me. I’ve had my eyes opened to what it takes to direct a full-length play.”

“She Kills Monsters,” inspired by the interactive fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons, will be performed Feb. 29 through March 9 (Thursday to Saturday) at 7 p.m. on the Orcas Center mainstage. Tickets are available at www.orcascenter.org. The show is rated PG-13.

The cast members, who range in age from 15 to mid-30s, include Claire Orser, Elodie Antonia, Kairam Bailey, Kelsey Hamilton, Lila Beale, Nat Sheppard, Noah Gwerder, Pedro LopezDe Victoria, Riley Helms, Sam Fisher, Victoria Smith, Annabella Williams, Hans Sprenger and Royce Tye.

While Moriarty is not a D&D aficionado, he is a “big fan” of the Marvel Universe and action-adventure and fantasy genres.

“My friends and I saw the new D&D movie and afterward were discussing the similarities to ‘She Kills Monsters.’ I said, ‘I could do that at Orcas Center!’ Since all my friends like it, I knew I’d have it cast,” he laughed. “I found a copy of it online and it was more funny than I thought.”

“She Kills Monsters” is a drama-comedy play written by Qui Nguyen. It tells the story of Agnes Evans, an average woman who loses her parents and younger sister Tilly in a car accident in Ohio. Having been very distant from her sister while she was alive, Agnes aims to learn more about her sibling by playing a Dungeons & Dragons module that Tilly created. The plot takes place in both reality and an imaginary game world. Audience members can expect an eclectic array of fantastical creatures like goblins, witches and monsters.

The play debuted in 2011 in New York and has become a favorite for high schools, colleges and community theatres to produce. It is a comedic, heartfelt story of sisterhood, friendship, identity and grief.

“From the outside, it looks like a play about D&D. But it’s a play about spending time with people you love,” Moriarty said.

Jake Perrine is designing the sound and lights. Melanie Trygg and Kate Johnson have curated costumes for the production. Asifa Pasin and cast members Sheppard and Smith have helped with props, weapons and building dragons and monsters.

Moriarty says the greatest surprise has been the number of people who have offered to lend their talents to the production.

“I get stressed and then out of nowhere, someone offers to help! I’ve learned to trust in the process,” he said.

Dungeons & Dragons debuted in 1974, and its publication is widely recognized as the beginning of the role-playing game industry. Players gather together to go on imaginary quests that often involve exploring a castle or dungeon, defeating monsters and discovering treasure. Dungeon masters, or DMs, create the story framework for players and guide them through a session. The D&D handbook describes three pillars of gameplay: exploration, social interaction and combat.

“It’s a creative medium with boundless opportunity for imagination within the rules,” Moriarty said. “And at the same time it’s all about teamwork and community. All of those elements are indelible. It also allows people to be someone else for a while and have superpowers.”

It has become a cliche: the unpopular nerd who obsessively plays Dungeons & Dragons.

But it turns out the geek will inherit the Earth.

A 2022 New York Times article asserts that kids who grew up playing D&D are now responsible for “culture-defining film franchises like the Marvel Universe and the wildly successful Netflix show ‘Stranger Things.’” The game has also been credited with helping to combat loneliness, anxiety and depression in teens and adults.

“I want to honor and respect the culture this play was inspired by,” Moriarty said.

This is the first theatrical production for some of the actors, many of whom are also avid D&D players. Moriarty says he is “corrected or has something clarified” during every rehearsal.

“This experience has made it clear to me how important it is to have theatrical opportunities and more than just seasonal shows with limited parts available,” he said. “This island can be lonely and theatre offers access to relationships – the same way D&D does.”