Thursday, October 28, 2021

Reimagining the Past: The Ghosts of Whitechapel

Dragonfly Theater Company 
Ghosts of Whitechapel: The Zoom Play

By Kate Black-Spence (Based on the play by Kate Black-Spence and Chris Brickhouse) 
Directed by Alison Henderson 

Starring: Michelle Ho as Polly Nichols, Jessica Maynard as Elizabeth Stride, Carolyn Minor as Annie Chapman, Michaela Voit as Catherine Eddowes, and Wanda B. Jin as Mary Jane Kelly.

Music is composed by Chris Majka. Stage Manager is Jean Gottlieb.

Watching the Ghosts of Whitechapel: The Zoom Play by Kate Black-Spence, directed by Alison Henderson and presented by Dragonfly Theater Company, one is reminded that women throughout history have been consistently subjugated by men. In this case, the subject concerns Jack the Ripper, the infamous Victorian serial killer who terrorized London in the late 19th century.

This world premiere digital presentation features some fine production values with smart editing, original music, and period costuming that takes the viewer on a trip to the past. But this journey is more about setting things right than offering cheap thrills.

In fact, the women we meet in this supernatural drama are the “canonical five” —Polly Nichols (Michelle Ho), Annie Chapman (Carolyn Minor), Elizabeth Stride (Jessica Maynard), Catherine Eddowes (Michaela Voit), and Mary Jane Kelly (Wanda B. Jin)—all victims by the brutal hands of the Ripper and played with confidence by this ensemble.

The premise for the story is simple: anytime someone says ‘his’ name out loud, these five ghosts who once lived, worked, and died on the streets in Whitechapel reappear to tell their own personal horror story again and again. However, this time things will be different.

While the theme of the story certainly fits into the spirit of this season, this play is worthy of production anytime. Carefully researched but clearly a piece of fiction, Black-Spence meticulously weaves together the various backstories of these women left behind by society. We see how they navigate the world, learn about their desires, and understand how they work on their own terms to get what they want. Here, she has the characters open up to us and each other, bringing us into a world that left few opportunities for women not born with the means to escape the drudgery of the streets. We get a sense of how life must have been for them, something that could easily be eclipsed by the sensationalism of a serial killer, and his legend.

But this isn’t all gloom and doom. The characters, while knowing what is to come, discuss debate and demand justice for their place in life with wit and humor mixed with intelligence and outrage. They claim their power and reveal a world where women of any class, but especially lower, have to be smart to survive.

Toward the end, we learn why it’s important to investigate our shared history and to set things right because too often the story is one-sided.

Performances: digitally through October 31st, 2021. Get tix HERE.

- Sean Hargadon

Sean Hargadon is an actor, director, producer and adaptor, who has worked in professional and community theater for 25 years. He has traveled the Fox Valley, Chicago, New York, London, and Canada to practice his trade. He has a Master of Arts degree in the Advanced Teaching of Shakespeare from the University of Warwick in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is the Artistic Director of the award-winning Janus Theatre Company, and the Elgin Shakespeare Project, both based out of Elgin. Hargadon also served on the Elgin Cultural Arts Commission, Elgin Fringe Festival, Next Wave Art Salon, Fallback Arts Festival, Pop-Up Poetry Project, and the popular Walkabout: Theater on Your Feet.

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