(l.-r.) Stacy Ross as Loveday, Jan Zvaifler as Valeria, and Chelsea Bearce as Katie
For World Premiere #63 at Central works in Berkeley, award-winning (Bamboozled!) playwright Patricia Milton gives us “The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective”, directed by Gary Graves. In it, Jack the Ripper is still doing his dirty deeds. His actions stoke the imagination and horror of everyone in London. Especially women, his victims brutally murdered and disemboweled. Nothing seems to be done to stop him. The police are ineffective. The dedicated Misses Loveday (regally played by Stacey Ross) and Valeria, a well-nuanced Jan Zvaifler, wish to end this ongoing tragedy. Loveday and Valeria run a boarding house for actresses. Seems most of the murdered women are actresses. Loveday feels that police and officials are reluctant to investigate them because actresses in those days- and even up to the early 20th century – were seen as prostitutes. Loveday had been an actress at one time, therefore, she is sympathetic not only because of their profession but also that they are women. Still, even today, murdered women, suspected of being prostitutes seem not to be as thoroughly investigated as those of business women, college students, or householders. This is especially true if the victim is a woman of color. To this day, Jack the Ripper’s identity is unknown.
It appears that Valeria isn’t too keen on rocking the boat, so-to-speak. She harbors a secret and hides behind a proper English lady veneer, sitting or striding about stroking her cat cradled in her arms; her face set.
One of their boarders is Katie, an American actress from the South, beautifully played by Chelsea Bearce. Being an American, she has none of the social restrictions of English women. As she gets involved with Loveday and Valeria’s arguments of wanting to take down Jack the Ripper, have him prosecuted and put to death for his atrocities, she spurs them on to action. Especially when she comes across Loveday’s press clippings. Katie demonstrates her weaponized fan that when flipped open emits a sharp retort like a gun going off.
Alan Coyne as the Constable
The character actor Alan Coyne plays three roles in Milton’s play: The Constable, a landlord, and a tradesmen- a butcher who unthinkingly shows up in a bloody apron (butchers and slaughterhouse workers were suspect). By his physical manipulations, dialect, and costume changes, Coyne is able to create distinctive, memorable characters. (Spot on period costumes and wigs created by Tammy Berlin; also excellent- sound track by Gregory Scharpen).
Stacy Ross, Jan Zvaifler, Chelsea Bearce, and Alan Coyne do justice to Patricia Milton’s snappy, fast- moving, intelligent and often humorous dialogue, requiring the audience’s dedication. One Is ever mindful of either missing a word or an unspoken exchange, clues to knowing exactly what is transpiring.
At the end, at the risk of a spoiler, it appears the women know who the murderer is. They grab their weapons and exit.
“The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective” is 120 minutes long with a 10 minute intermission. It continues through June 9, at Central Works Theatre at The Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant, Berekely, CA. BART, AC transit, some street parking. Go to Central Works.org Ph. 510-558-1381 for information. Brown Paper Tickets. Thurs. 8 PM Pay what you can; Fri. 8PM; Sat. 7 PM; Sun 5 PM. Mostly sold out, seats available June 6-9.