Like Easter eggs in superhero movies, it's the details that delight in She Kills Monsters at Theatre Three. The way a trio of insect-bear creatures bop in place while waiting to battle the play's heroines, calling to mind the distinctive movement patterns of early video game opponents, or how their masks are styled to resemble basic eight-bit animation. Focus enough on these facets from co-directors Jeffrey Schmidt and Katy Tye, and the play's bigger holes won't seem so glaring.
Qui Nyguen's script is, on the whole, packed with solid-gold geekery. A young woman who lost her parents and younger sister in a car crash finds solace in a notebook the teen left behind. As Agnes (Bree Redmond) delves deeper and deeper into the world of Dungeons & Dragons — where her sister, Tilly (the always dependable Kennedy Waterman), was a local legend — she discovers how little she really knew the girl.
Griffin Hammel is endearingly dorky as Chuck, the Dungeon Master who guides Agnes through the game Tilly built. It's through him that Agnes speaks to her lost sister, and he's especially tender when he has to pull her out of the therapeutic reveries with reminders that he's only re-enacting what Tilly left behind.
The metaphor that high school is a war zone is rendered through colorful villains (Alle Mims and Sam Schneider-Behen have great fun as cheerleader harpies, while Chandra Rees sparkles in a brief turn as a homicidal fairy) and clever boss fights (Lydia Mackay's guidance counselor is a Karen Walker-like treat).
A huge chunk of this show's joy comes from seeing what sci-fi creature might appear next, and Ryan Schaap (costumes), Raul Luna (assistant costumes), and Karina Branson (makeup) raise the stakes with each monster. Amanda West's effective lighting has to sometimes fight against choppy and unnecessary animation, played on mounted TVs that partially obscure the perch of the Narrator (Beth Lipton, mellifluous-voiced and a dead ringer for Cate Blanchett as Galadriel).
The fights are whimsical with a realistic edge, thanks to Jeff Colangelo's choreography and excellent sound design from John Flores. Filling out Agnes' scrappy D&D team is the ethereal elf Kaliope (Carine Rice), a slacker orc named Orcus (Seth Monhollon), and Lilith (Bear Campbell) the dominatrix demon. Somewhat joining in is Agnes' boyfriend Miles, an underwritten role that's nevertheless gamely played by Aaron Jay Green.
When Nyguen's script is pitting everyday kids (like Christopher Lew's intrepid loner) against fantastic beasts and throwing in grade-A nerd references, it's a adrenaline-fueled quest. But when it tries to linger too long on human emotions, the artificiality of its world begins to seep through. Forcing loose ends into a neat little bow also causes the loss of a few hit points, but not every game can last forever.
She Kills Monsters runs at Theatre Three through April 1.