Golden Chain brings 'Jack the Ripper'

Community CorrespondentOctober 8, 2013 

Oakhurst will experience the appearance of one of history's most lurid serial killers Friday night — Jack the Ripper. Fortunately, his vicious acts of violence will be confined to the stage of the Golden Chain Theatre, where cast and crew of the play accounting his crime spree, have been preparing for opening night since mid-August.

With a script written by former Mountain Area local resident Roger Clugston and deliberately presented in proximity to Halloween, "Jack the Ripper" had been performed previously in 1996. However, this production will feature "new twists and turns," describing the killer's motives in a fashion "turned on its ear," according to Jason Turner, director.

More importantly, "Instead of focusing on the graphic violence, we will be focusing on the women involved because they are real people, not just names in a history book," Turner said.

Although no actual bloodshed is featured until the very end of the play, due to the accuracy of the script, the theatre has nevertheless given the production a PG-13 rating.

Another dilemma also results by putting such attention on the victims, prostitutes who plied their trade on the streets of London's impoverished Whitechapel district in 1888.

"The unfortunate thing is you are attached to them, so it's a little unsettling when they die," said Turner, who appeared in the 1996 production.

A further noteworthy aspect of the performance is that the story is told in a 'flashback' manner. The opening scene takes place in the living room of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of famous works including Sherlock Holmes and The Lost World, 22 years after Jack the Ripper's first crime. He is visited by retired Detective Swanson, and Conan begins probing Swanson to ascertain if the investigator has any clear opinion regarding the identity of the serial killer. The drama then begins depicting the crimes as they happened, with Conan and Swanson occasionally being featured to tie the story together.

In the words of Cole Luck III, who plays Detective Swanson, the two perform essentially the role of a "Greek chorus" in which they "provide narrative links."

Doyle's role is performed by Peter Clarke, who considers the famous author a controversial "Jekyll and Hyde" personality who "becomes creepy." Echoing the director's view, Clarke says, "The saving grace is that you really care about the women. Despite being street-wise, they care about each other."

In fact, perhaps the only humorous distraction from the grim realities depicted on stage is the banter between the three prostitutes.

The first of Jack the Ripper's victims, Mary Ann 'Polly' Nichols, is played by Jenny Turner, who is the wife of director Turner and was also featured in the 1996 Golden Chain Theatre rendition. As with other members of the cast, she is another performer who is grateful for her husband's concentration on the humanity of the victims.

"Polly Nichols had a very long and intense story," explained Jenny. "She was a wife and a mother of four children, and I like that Jason was really able to bring that to life."

Jennifer Piccolotti performs in the role of Elizabeth 'Liz' Stride, the next to perish. Aside from being a talented actress, Piccolotti is also the former president of the theatre board of directors and directs its musicals. She is grateful for "a great, strong cast — It has been fun to work with them."

She is particularly attracted to the humanity portrayed in theatrical performances because people in the video age are no longer "used to the intimacy, to looking characters in the eye." In contrast, someone attending a play goes "to the theater to feel something."

It is clear that, with the drama's emphasis on the victims' stories, the audience will not be disappointed.

Although in real life at least five murders were committed by Jack the Ripper, the final victim featured in the Golden Chain Theatre's production is Mary Kelly. She is played by Tawni Rae Jackson, a performer who has been quite active with the company for the last few years, appearing in so many plays and dance routines that she considers the theatre her "home away from home."

She is especially delighted to be part of the light-hearted conversation taking place between the women.

"Since it's really dark subject matter, we have had to find things to giggle about," Jackson said.

Overall, perhaps one of the most distinguishing characteristics of "Jack the Ripper" is that it does not have any particular stars. Instead, the cast of several main players and over a dozen extras is more of what Jason Turner considers an "ensemble."

Finally, just who the villain really is will not be easily revealed, and will only be ascertained by the audience in an indirect manner. In fact, the actor playing Jack the Ripper will not even take a bow during the curtain call at the end of the play, further evidence that the theatre's goal is not to glorify the killer with this production."Jack the Ripper"

"Jack the Ripper" performances: 7 p.m. Fridays, Oct. 11, 18, and 25 — 7 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 12, 19, and 26 — 2 p.m. matinees Sundays on Oct. 13, 20 and 27.

The theatre's Grub Gulch Saloon will be open and selling wine, mixed drinks, beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea, mochas, hot dogs and candy. Freshly-popped popcorn is provided free.

General admission: $12 — Senior (55 & over): $10 — Student (13-18 years) $8 — Children (4-12 years) $6 — Children (3 & under) free — Group rate (25 or more) $9 — "House" rate (175 plus) $8.

Reservations: (559) 683-7112, gctboxoffice@gmail.com. Tickets can be purchased via PayPal goldenchaintheatre.org.


"Jack the Ripper"

"Jack the Ripper" performances: 7 p.m. Fridays, Oct. 11, 18, and 25 — 7 p.m. Saturdays, Oct. 12, 19, and 26 — 2 p.m. matinees Sundays on Oct. 13, 20 and 27.

The theatre's Grub Gulch Saloon will be open and selling wine, mixed drinks, beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea, mochas, hot dogs and candy. Freshly-popped popcorn is provided free.

General admission: $12 — Senior (55 & over): $10 — Student (13-18 years) $8 — Children (4-12 years) $6 — Children (3 & under) free — Group rate (25 or more) $9 — "House" rate (175 plus) $8.

Reservations: (559) 683-7112, gctboxoffice@gmail.com. Tickets can be purchased via PayPal goldenchaintheatre.org.

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