Music by Froggy Moody. Lyrics by various artists. Narrative by David J. Taylor
Produced by Landless Theatre Company
Directed by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Unspeakable living conditions, beggars, prostitutes, pickpockets, hideous death, surgical dismemberment, and rock-n-roll. What could be cooler than that, eh?
Unfortunately, Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, is – and there is no other way I can put this – boring. A bartender (David Bobb) gives us a straightforward narrative of the 1888 Whitechapel murders, periodically interrupted by sixteen bland songs. The five victims (Jill Vanderweit, Renee Robban, Tiffany Garfinkle, Momo Nakamura, and KJ Jacks) step up in turn to be eviscerated by the Ripper (Nick Upchurch, wearing what appears to be a costume borrowed from the Scary Movie.) Scenes from grimy Whitechapel are projected onto the wall. Among these projections we see the Ripper victims post mortem, so don’t bring grammaw or the kiddies. There is a surprise at the end, but you will have guessed it by the third song.
The static and predictable music is teamed with lyrics which limn the stupefyingly obvious. They point out that: (1) it is very unpleasant to be poor; (2) it is exceptionally unpleasant to be poor in London’s East End at the close of the nineteenth century, and (3) it is very, very, very unpleasant to be disemboweled by Jack the Ripper (or anyone else, I imagine.)
Landless does what it can with this unpromising material. Vanderweit and Robban have excellent voices; the choral singing is good; and the individual voices are, with one exception, at least adequate. Except for the silly Ripper garb, costumer Elizabeth Reeves’ work is quite good. The band, though, is uneven. Bobb’s Cockney accent is undoubtedly done correctly (Jessica Hansen is dialect coach) but its authenticity is frequently achieved at the expense of clarity. No matter; we know the story.
Landless could pay a little more attention to detail. Dr. Rees Ralph Llewellyn, who autopsied the first victim, established beyond reasonable debate that the Ripper was left-handed. The play mentions this fact. Yet all the murders in this production are performed right-handed.
Ah, well. This is only sixty minutes and costs less than a double sawbuck, and there are worse things to do with your time and money. I leave cold, foggy London and step out into the pleasant Adams-Morgan night. I have a light meal and a libation at the Toledo Lounge across the street No one tickles me under the chin or offers to rock my world for a sum of money. I do not expect that to happen until closer to the election. No one seeks to separate me from my kidneys. Life is good.
One last note. The great Robert Bloch once wrote a short story called “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” in which he posited that the Ripper was alive and operating in Chicago in 1943. The short story was eventually made into an undistinguished movie. This musical is not that story.
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper continues Thursdays through Sundays until July 15 at the DC Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW. Sunday shows are 3 p.m.; all other shows are at 7.30. Sunday tickets are $15; all other tickets are $18. Order online.