Jack the Ripper play finds heart in bloody true story

Photo via alchemisttheatre.com

Photo via alchemisttheatre.com

Before TV gave us “Dexter,” there was Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who terrorized London’s Whitechapel district in the late 1800s. He potentially killed as many as 11 women, but only five – Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelley – were proven victims. The unfortunate women are now known as “the Canonical Five.”

“The Canonical Five of Jack the Ripper,” the first in the theater’s “Year of Fear” themed productions, aims to explore the lives of the women defined by their horrible deaths. The show will run Thursdays through Saturdays, Jan. 24 to Feb. 9.

“The Alchemist’s ‘Halloween Shows’ have been very successful and are considered a tradition for quite a few folks,” said Aaron Kopec, writer and director of “The Canonical Five.” “This year, we are revisiting some of the favorite Halloween shows during the ‘year of fear.’”

The “Year of Fear” is set to bring several new stagings of dark audience favorites. After the story of Jack the Ripper, ”Dracula,” “House of Horrors: A Chronicle of H.H.Holmes” and “King Lear” will come to the Alchemist stage as part of the special season.

The plays were chosen to construct a sort of narrative when viewed together.

“First, we catch glimpses of an unknown monster lurking in the shadowy alleyways, killing off the forgotten souls of London’s Whitechapel district,” Kopec said. “Then the monster stalks our loved ones from the darkness. Next he takes the form of the ‘everyman’ who lives next door and tortures and murders possibly hundreds just out of view. Finally, with Lear, the monster is in our minds as the title character brings us along through his trip to madness.”

Kopec noted that the new play’s purpose is not to solve the riddle of Jack the Ripper’s identity, which has puzzled scholars. Rather, he aims to focus on the lives of the five victims and explore possibilities.

Anna Figlesthaler plays Mary Kelley, widely accepted as Jack the Ripper’s final victim. Very little is known about Kelley’s life, with most of the information from rumors. Because of this, the actress took the few bits of information she could find to create a complete character.

“We couldn’t possibly present all of the theories or suspects in an hour and a half long show, so we had to focus on what made sense for us,” Figlesthaler said in an email. “The play focuses so much on the lives of the victims prior to the murders. I hope the audience will recognize that and be able to view these women as people rather than the victims of a mad man.”

Since the women are closely connected through their fate, the cast also developed a sort of camaraderie between the five victims.

“Having worked with all of these wonderful women before, that was very easy to do,”  Figlesthaler said.

Despite the dark subject matter, Kopec noted that the show is not all macabre. “I expect that the audience will find it hard to revisit these awful murders,” added Figlsthaler. “But the play also contains moments of humor and levity.”

“The show is not a bloodbath production,” Kopec said. “Instead, the scares come in the form of tension and the knowledge of the ultimate fate of these women as the audience gets to know them.”

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