THE UNFORTUNATES Grisly and Honorable

THE UNFORTUNATES Grisly and Honorable

Gail Rastorfer. Photos by Emily Schwartz.

Review: THE UNFORTUNATES at SoloChicago 

By Erin Roche

Mary Jane Kelly is just one of the “unfortunates” of seedy 19th century East London—her story one of many dismal accounts of not only the victims of notorious Jack the Ripper, but also of the women left with little options in this eat-or-be-eaten world. The “unfortunates” cannot afford to stay away from the dodgier parts of town, even when a serial killer runs rampant—they have to take the opportunity to turn any trick they can. This is why Kelly doesn’t shy away from a dark, empty bar with one tight-lipped stranger as the only audience for her rhetorical tale of life, love, and lack thereof. We, in our theater seats, are of course the true audience—witnessing her (probably last) words as she unhinges unknowingly upon the Ripper himself.

Gail Rastofer is precise, if not meticulous, when it comes to the ticks and delivery of the many characters she portrays throughout this 90-minute, uninterrupted saga. With finesse, she ping-pongs between her good-for-nothing lover, her dainty companion and fellow Ripper victim, and her previous landlady and Madame, to name a few, all while expertly running the gamut of pointed British regional dialects. The experience of Mary Jane Kelly’s story does feel a bit long-winded at times, however, and I credit that to the writing rather than Rastofer’s performance. She brings Mary Jane Kelly to life as a fully-formed woman—scrappy, desperate, and funny—always finding a clever way to wrap up her dismal stories told between belt of whiskey.

It’s been 125 years since Jack the Ripper’s serial killer spree, and he remains a household name to this day. But where are the stories of his victims? Where were their lives recounted, or even their names? As the actor states towards the end of the performance, the community reacted to the murders like they were “picking a scab.” They were horrified but equally invested in the madness, contributing to all but glorifying the killer in their macabre curiosity. Some could say this is a remark on the media of today—flashing headlines and reporting tirelessly over the evil-doers of our day, giving their names and their actions undue spotlight as their victims and their lives and experiences fall by the wayside. Mary Jane Kelly was an unfortunate of her day—overlooked and downtrodden in life as well as in death. THE UNFORTUNATES serves not only to give her back her life and eradicate the one-note take on her label of “Ripper’s last victim,” but also to give voices to the voiceless victims of these horrific acts. This piece is grisly as much as it is honorable, looming and dreary but steadfast in its intention.

About author

Erin Roche

Erin Roche is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Vocal Performance, a strong theater background, and an even stronger desire to showcase the best that Chicago talent has to offer.