Jack the Ripper has been the subject of many nerdy films, comic books, and even video games. Who he might have been is the subject of endless debate and conspiratorial theorizing, but no one knows who Jack The Ripper really was. Yet historians do know a little about the five women that he murdered. The fifth and, presumed, final victim was Mary Jane Kelly, and her final hours are the subject of the play The Unfortunates.
Diana Cherkas as Mary Kelly is the sole performer in the show. Mary has entered a Whitechapel pub to find it empty save for a single occupant. Cherkas is alone on stage, but observant audiences members will note that a gentleman’s hat and cane are hanging on the wall. This is an ominous sign that Jack The Ripper is there and that he has found another victim.
Mary, ironically, thinks that she’s found her next mark. A woman of ill repute, she sees her new gentleman companion as a source of petty income and tries to hustle a pound or two out of him. All the while the audience is aware that they’re watching a doomed woman fretting over a few shillings when her life about to end gruesomely.
Cherkas holds the stage for an hour and a half as this character. The entire piece is Mary regaling her new friend with tales of her life in Whitechaple. The title is accurate because Mary (And playwright Aoise Stratford) paint a horrible picture of what life was like for prostitutes living in the worst parts of 19th Century London.
The subject of Jack the Ripper comes up in Mary’s conversation, and she claims to have known some of the women killed by the Ripper. Cherkas always remains in character as Mary, but she plays Mary pretending to be her friends from around the neighborhood, including the other victims. This lets the audience dig deeper into Mary’s world, while never having to introduce other characters or change the set.
All of the design elements help create a picture of life in this time and place. This is especially impressive given that the show is part of an off-off-Broadway festival and has to share the venue with other productions. David M Kaplan’s set includes just the basics of what a pub would have, but still has enough furniture for Mary to lounge about while regaling the Ripper with her stories.
Cherkas’ costume is designed by Julia Sharp. She only wears one dress, but the single garment is filled with details showing the sort of hard life that Mary has had. It looks like it might have once been a fine dress, but the buttons are all mismatched, the hemline is torn, the cuffs are filthy and there are unidentifiable stains on the skirt. Sharp’s design has a story of its own to tell.
The Unfortunates looks at an over-analyzed subject from a new perspective. Of course, it’s just the playwright’s speculation on what might have happened to Mary, but it’s still a superior example of how to make a one-person show, and Fringe audiences should be happy to spend Mary’s last hours with her.
The Unfortunates has two more performances in the NYC Fringe Festival as of this writing. More information can be found at www.vertical-tasting.com.