A Voice for the Voiceless

A Defense of “She Kills Monsters”


Kailey Albus

The Theatre Program will perform “She Kills Monsters” this month.

Laine Gamrath, Staff Writer

Laine Gamrath, Columist

Last spring, three LFHS teachers went to see a play. Eager to find a show to put on as the freshman/sophomore production for the 2019-2020 school year, they went in with an open, but still critical, mind. They had heard positive reviews from various production lists, and as soon as they left the theatre, they knew that this was the show they wanted to do as the freshman/sophomore play for the upcoming school year.

That play was “She Kills Monsters.”

Originally written by Qui Nguyen, the play, set in the 90s, tells the story of a young English teacher named Agnes Evans, who, in order to get closure over the death of her sister Tilly, enlists the help of a high schooler to decipher her late sister’s Dungeons and Dragons module. Agnes discovers parts of Tilly that she never knew, which brings the two sisters closer than ever.

While it sounds innocent, the play worried some citizens of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. Those citizens, taken aback by the amount of profanity and sexual situations in the show, were not pleased that it would be performed by teenagers, for teenagers.

English teacher John Wanninger, the director of the past six freshman/sophomore plays and co-director of the past 10 spring musicals, spoke to some of these community members about his choice of production and was surprised by the amount of pushback he received.

“We didn’t anticipate so much backlash,” Mr. Wanninger said. “From the beginning, we knew we would be editing some of the language out, we knew that a lot of the foul language wasn’t appropriate for a freshman/sophomore play, so it was always in our plan to edit most of that out anyway.”

However, there was another point of interest that surprised him even more.

“The biggest issue I had was people taking things out of context who had admittedly not read the play, and also people who never thought to ask me or anyone in the Theatre program before they just made assumptions about what was happening,” he said.

Mr. Wanninger said there was a public version of the script circulating social media, which was not the version the school had purchased the rights for because the author himself has since changed the play to remove most of the offensive language from the script. The directors had already planned to tone down the amount of profanity in the production, making it appropriate for a freshman/sophomore play. There was, however, one more key aspect of the show that seemed to bother community members more than the other parts.

“With some of the more public displays of anger about the play that have appeared on various social media platforms, it seems very clear that the issue really isn’t about profanity, and in some cases it’s very explicitly explained that the issue is that there are gay characters in the play,” Wanninger said. “Now, I’m not going to say that that’s anyone’s only problem with the show, but that was a pretty public concern that was brought up in things that were circulating around the town.”

Yes, it is true that some of the characters in “She Kills Monsters” are, in fact, gay. This is one of the parts of her sister that Agnes finds out through playing Dungeons and Dragons through the module, and this is emphasized by some of the “monsters” her sister created, based off of bullies at her school.

The monsters she fights off in the game are the monsters she dealt with in real life: the people who thought being gay was not okay and the people who identified as such deserved to be put through hell for it.

In “She Kills Monsters,” Tilly was bullied for being gay before she died in a car accident at the age of 15. The monsters she fights off in the game are the monsters she dealt with in real life: the people who thought being gay was not okay and the people who identified as such deserved to be put through hell for it.

Some members of the community have a problem with the LGBTQ+ aspect of the show. They, and others, believe that this is one of the reasons that “She Kills Monsters” should not be the freshman/sophomore play this year.

By no means am I calling anyone homophobic. By no means am I saying anyone is against the LGBTQ+ community. By no means am I calling anyone any names. But I do believe that, at this school and in the Lake Forest/Lake Bluff community, some members of the LGBTQ+ community feel silenced or not accepted, and this is just a small portion of a much larger issue. All around the world, the brave few and their allies choose to stand up against this and be proud of who they are, because what they sexually identify as shouldn’t determine whether or not they are hated, protested against, or outcast.

Of course, society has come a long way from how we used to treat this community — when doctors tried to “fix” them with medicine, or when they were simply executed. But, what I know needs to change is the discrimination this community still faces today: hate crimes, being barred from military service, and the fact that in 28 states, there are no laws at all protecting the LGBTQ+ from discrimination of any kind, according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan campaign working to achieve rights for the entire LGBTQ+ community worldwide.

28 states. That’s well over half our country.

And the fact is this: People who aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community don’t have a true understanding of what those people are going through. Yes, that true comprehension is very difficult to obtain, but if this community is truly to be accepted in a society with equal rights for all, then some sort of understanding and empathy needs to circulate. Through this knowledge and awareness, that community will finally be able to be accepted as equals in society, because being gay or being straight or anywhere in between is like having brown, blue, or any color eyes: it’s a part of who you are, and that’s okay.

“She Kills Monsters” is actually a very effective way to spread that awareness. By performing this production, the students at Lake Forest High School are giving all audience members a chance to see what it is really like for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to be in high school, whether it’s in the 90s like the setting of the show or now. This is not the show’s only message, as it deals with identity, finding your true beliefs within, and coping and fighting against the “monsters” in our lives.

Amelia Myers, a sophomore and seasoned actress who is playing the role of Agnes, has already found that she appreciates this production for its more profound subject matter.

“I was just in ‘Cinderella’ and I did ‘Charlie Brown’ two summers ago, and those kind of have messages you can take from them, of course, but this show has a deeper message,” Myers said. “It’s not just ‘be nice to your friends’ or ‘be kind to everyone,’ it’s more that you need to understand people because not all people are going to be the same, so you have to accept them for who they are.”

Furthermore, like Myers, many students were very enthusiastic to audition for the show and portray its message, despite the backlash that occurred.

“From the beginning of the year, our kids were really expressing interest in the show,” Mr. Wanninger said. “I knew that we would have enough people try out, but I didn’t anticipate how many: it was the biggest audition numbers we’ve ever had for the freshman/sophomore show.”

Pullquote Photo

[The show] has a lot to do with being true to yourself, about fighting the symbolic monsters we have in our lives, about finding a way to become your own warrior.

— John Wanninger

Mr. Wanninger also implied that everyone — not just the audience, but also the performers — can learn from the adventures Agnes and Tilly Evans take together.

“[The show] has a lot to do with being true to yourself, about fighting the symbolic monsters we have in our lives, about finding a way to become your own warrior,” Mr. Wanninger said. “Those are all very important ideas; our students deal with a lot of issues in their lives — whether it’s family issues, personal issues, or identity issues — and I think that seeing this play can help create a connection with the audience and also help show that there is a healthy way to deal with these problems. Art can have the power to provoke ideas, and this play does that.”

These actors and actresses are more than prepared to help spread this awareness and the other messages portrayed in the production for their fellow classmates and for the LGBTQ+ community as a whole through this play, using entertainment as a way to spread understanding to their family, friends, and the community of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. “She Kills Monsters” is allowing these students to express their beliefs and find themselves, as they hope to see the day where everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and more, can be treated as equals.