Is Jack the Ripper at it again? That is the question that the trio dubbed the Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective sets out to answer. The similarities between London’s most famous serial killer and the Battersea Butcher are striking terror in the hearts of young actresses, who are getting picked off at an alarming rate in London’s Battersea district.
The only advice from the men in the play, all portrayed by Alan Coyne, is to warn women to stay in their homes, rather than risk becoming the next victim. However, former stage actress, Lovejoy Fortescue, a fiercely independent and enterprising soul (played by the incomparable Stacy Ross), is set on discovering the murderer’s identity. She offers to help the local constable but is turned down, so she repeats the offer to the local group of men who have been deputized to aid in local police matters but is turned away again because, of course, they consider women incapable of detective work. Armed with intellect and persistence but lacking in income, Miss Fortescue is dependent on her sister, Valeria Hunter (played deftly by Jan Zvaifler), and therefore must persuade her to finance her detective work.
Enter a young and beautiful American actress, Katie Smalls (played charmingly by Chelsea Bearce), who is one of Valeria’s boarders. Katie is also intent on bringing down the Battersea Butcher and brings her own skill-set to the Victorian Ladies Detective Collective. (Wait till you see what she can do with a fan!)
Local playwright Patricia Milton sets the play in Victorian England, but if you removed the period costumes and accents, it could be Hollywood, circa 2017. The sad truth is that in many ways, women’s status in society since the Victorian era has not progressed all that much. Although the premise of the play is a murder mystery, the theme is much grander–women, faced with sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and misogyny need to trust and protect each other if we hope to approach equality and disrupt the business-as-usual patriarchy.
Despite the serious subject and the grisly deaths happening offstage, humor permeates the play, so the audience gets plenty of chances to laugh. The result? A wonderful balance of a whodunit, a charming period piece, a consciousness-raising experience, and a greatly entertaining evening of theater!
Central Works has extended the run of The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective to June 9, so there are still plenty of opportunities to catch Patricia Milton’s delightful play. But don’t wait until the last minute to purchase tickets; the intimate venue of the Berkeley City Club means that space is limited.