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A CurtainUp Review
By Julia Furay
Unfortunately, the new stage adaptation at the WorkShop Theater carries the creakiness of all those years. The story, adapted here by playwright M-ire Martello is actually more of a psychological drama than a murder mystery. A London couple, the Buntings (George Innes and Kristen Lowman), are on the verge of financial ruin when Mr. Sleuth, a mysterious, wealthy man (John Martello) miraculously appears to rent one of their rooms. His odd, creepy manner gradually alerts the couple that he may be responsible for the "Avenger" (the fictionalized Jack the Ripper counterpart) crimes currently terrifying London. However, they're reluctant to give up that desperately needed money, even for the sake of their good friend Joe (Michael Guagno) who is a detective anxious to solve the crimes.
It's an interesting setup, but this production fails to deliver on its promise. To begin with, M-ire Martello's adaptation moves along at a meandering pace, and the excitement and fear incited by the murders seems fairly removed from the household onstage. Additionally, the well-meaning detective Joe just doesn't come off as bright enough to ever threaten to discover what's really going on. Director H. Bart Goldberg has failed to build much tension or any sense of danger in the household or helped his cast from struggling with their English accents and their character choices. At the performance I attended, John Martello, in particular, stumbled over his lines and failed to give a convincingly creepy portrayal of the lodger.
On the positive side, the physical production (set by Craig Napolielo, costumes by Isabelle Fields and lighting by Mike Riggs) is nicely realistic, and the period touches in both script and setting (like the look of the 1880s newspaper) are quite interesting. Most intriguing of all, of course, are the discussions of the Avenger's gruesome crimes and the details about how a police investigation proceeded in those days which continue to make this an involving story remains despite this production's shortcomings. Given the beer-budget ticket prices, you won't go broke spending a cold dark January evening with this Jack the Ripper story.