By: JK Clarke
It is an undisputed and tragic truth that we almost universally know more about killers, serial killers in particular, than their victims. In that fact is a secondary tragedy, one that insults the tragedy of their already horrific deaths. The Unfortunates, now playing in the Fringe Festival at Teatro LATEA, attempts to remedy that in some small way by telling the story of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper’s final victim. And, you see, there it is: if we’re not aficionados of the Ripper legacy, we only recognize his moniker, not her name.
The Unfortunates is a respectful nod to Kelly and the other victims of the Whitechapel Murders. Diana Cherkas plays Kelly, who has come into a seemingly empty Ten Bells pub, only to discover a strange gentleman there. His nobility is hinted at by the top hat and fancy walking stick on the hat stand. She begins a rather one-sided conversation with him, and we, the audience, more or less stand in for him. Much of the information available surrounding these infamous killings is based on innuendo. There are initial police reports and some lurid photographs, but mostly it’s just myriad theories. Even the identities and personalities of the (presumed to be) prostitutes who were killed — since they lived on the fringes of society — are largely speculative. But playwright Aoise Stratford gives them the benefit of the doubt. Cherkas endows Kelly with likability and smarts, and a taste for liquor. She speaks of the other victims (the titular “Unfortunates”) as decent people, gaily re-telling conversations she had with them (along with the story of her own life) as one does of the deceased.
While well written and well-performed (despite ambiguous accents that jump from Essex to Ireland within a single sentence), the sad truth is that one of the reasons these women’s stories are not often told is because they are somewhat tedious. Yes, the mundane moments before a horrific murder are compelling in their irony, but in this particular case they aren’t worthy of 90 minutes of re-telling. Ms. Stratford and Ms. Cherkas nobly pay their respects to these cursèd women, but don’t achieve the same level of success in captivating an audience.
The Unfortunates. Directed by Ryan Scott Whinnem. At Fringe Festival, Teatro LATEA (107 Suffolk Street). Remaining performances: August 22, August 24, August 24. www.fringe.org