Theater & Dance
"She Kills Monsters"

By: Qui Nguyen
Produced by: Foothill Theatre Arts
Directed by: Bruce McLeod
Fight choreography by: Carla Pantoja
Featuring: Gwyneth Forrester (Agnes), Fatima Mejia (Tilly), Niko Raiyawa (Chuck), Seton Chiang (Narrator), Amara Snow-Miller (Lilith), Jaime Melendez (Kaliope), Thomas Times (Orcus), Gwyneth Price Panos (Vera), Austin Valliani (Steve), Omer Ben-Uzi (Miles), Brenda Lopez (Evil Tina), Reagan Harwood (Evil Gabbi), and Abbey Eklund (Farrah). The ensemble includes: Sarah Hamidi, Sidney Kenny, Jonathan Wright, Daniel Cardenas, and Kyle Welsh
When: November 2-18, 2018
Where: Lohman Theatre, 12345 El Monte Road off I-280, Los Altos Hills
Tickets: Tickets: $5 (preview)- $20; or 650-949-7360

Pantoja, Kinney
Bruce McLeod / Foothill Theatre Arts
Fight Choreographer Carla Pantoja, left, works out some swordplay moves with actress Sidney Kinney (and a dragon), for the comic drama "She Kills Monsters," presented by Foothill Theatre Arts November 2-18, 2018, at the Lohman Theatre in Los Altos.
Stage combat coach Carla Pantoja
revels in teaching women to fight
Usually, on stage, it's man on woman; in 'She Kills Monsters,'
women fight women in a meaningful 'Dungeons & Dragons' melee
November 2, 2018

Carla Pantoja, who was born and raised in Santa Clara, and still lives there, took a summer session in stage combat at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, "and I LOVED it," she said during a recent phone interview.

She continued training for it when she returned to the states.

"It's definitely a field dominated by men," she said. "I remember some fight teachers asking us at the time, 'What are you doing at this fight class? What do you want from it?'

"I said, 'I know I will probably never use this, but I love it.'

"I kind of fell into it. Because I know how to fight, opportunities kind of opened up.

"I played a role in 'Corilanus' at Woman's Will, fought, continued on, and an opportunity to be a fight director came up."

Since then, Pantoja has been an actor and a fight director all over the greater Bay Area, and also teaches stage combat at many schools and colleges. She was certified as a stage combat instructor by Dueling Arts International.

These days, she's been having fun teaching the actors for "She Kills Monsters" for Foothill Theatre.

"'She Kills Monsters' is almost all women,' she said. "It's pretty amazing. The exciting thing about 'She Kills Monsters' is that most of these fights are with female fighters, and they are fighting with weapons.

"The majority of contemporary plays that have violence tend to be focused on violence against on women.

"This show is probably every fight director's dream. I have a feeling this will go into something I will touch again as it comes along. Many times."

Also exciting about "She Kills Monsters" are the weapons the cast — dedicated players of "Dungeons & Dragons" — get to wield.

"All these weapons from 'Dungeons & Dragons!'" Pantoja said. "The theatricality of working with a battle axe that is a kind of halberd. They are metal weapons, stage-worthy weapons, designed to take a beating. There are quarter-staff fights, a big battle axe, broadswords, a short sword, a buckler — which is a kind of small shield."

Pantoja said she was not into martial arts before learning about stage combat.

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"It's a different mentality," she said. "In sparring (like in martial arts), the intention is to get the other person. In stage, you work with your stage partner to tell the story. You are letting your partner attack pre-determined parts of your body, and vice versa."

Pantoja is firm about the need for theater companies to hire fight directors.

"I tell them, you don't have the money to hire a stage director, but do you have the money to pay the liability?

"There was a theater company in San Francisco, they were doing an arm lock on an actor — an art director and the director. They didn't have a fight director. They broke the actor's arm while demonstrating how they wanted it done. It was a horrible break.

"You cannot treat actors like tissue, throw them away. … I want to keep my actors safe, so they can fight another day."

"She Kills Monsters," by Qui Nguyen, at first seems almost goofy, a tale of 'Dungeons & Dragons,' filled with nerdy kids playing the seminal role-playing game. The stage is filled with brave heroines and elves and monsters, and everybody's having a great time with swords and magic.

But it evolves into something deep and meaningful, and very touching. It's a story of a family tragedy, and finding hope.

It is the story, more or less, of Agnes, a 25-year-old schoolteacher who lost her entire family in a car crash. While packing up her family's house in Ohio so she can move in with her boyfriend, she finds her 15-year-old sister Tilly's "Dungeons & Dragons" notebook.

She takes the notebook to a high school kid, Chuck, and browbeats him into becoming Dungeon Master, so she can play the game story her sister wrote.

And the game begins to unfold immediately, with a dominatrix, flesh-eating warrior Lillith, and a warrior elf, Kalliope.

And Agnes' dead sister, Tilly — that is, Tillius the Paladin, healer of the wounded and the protector of lights.

At first Agnes is kind of freaked out — she herself was into "normal" things — pop music and boys — and doesn't understand her little sister's interest in this geeky game.

But she wants to make up for lost time. She wants to get to know the little sister she never took the time to know, and thinks she may find her in the game her sister wrote.

It is a fine play.

John Orr is a member of the America Theatre Critics Association. Email him at
Pantoja, Wong
John Western photo
Carla Pantoja as Kate, left, and Phil Wong as Grumio in San Francisco Shakespeare Festival's 2015 Free Shakespeare in the Park production of "The Taming of the Shrew."