LOCKPORT – One hundred twenty-five years later, Jack the Ripper, perhaps one of the first widely recognized serial killers, still intrigues people.
And perhaps none more than Lockport resident Jon May, who has written his first play, “Ripper,” about the gruesome London murders of 1888. His production will premiere this weekend and continue next weekend in the Palace Theatre.
May, who turns 48 next week, has been involved in the local theater scene for the past 30 years, as both a director and actor, most recently playing the lead role of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” which was presented at the Palace in July. But “Ripper” will be his first time as both playwright and director.
May has the whole family involved in his passion, with his wife, Lisa, working behind the scenes with the production crew and his almost 12-year-old daughter, Sophie, on stage as one of the newsboys.
“The only way I get to see my family. It’s kind of a weird show to be a family show. It’s not really happy,” May said with a chuckle.
“He’s always wanted to do a Jack the Ripper play,” Lisa May said. “He loves the horror. He loves those old Dracula and Frankenstein movies, and directed both those plays. He was always fascinated by Jack the Ripper and searched for a play but didn’t find any he liked. So we joked with him to write his own ... and finally one day he said, ‘I’m going to try it.’ ”
And his wife said once he sets his mind to something, he does it.
You said you have been part of Curtain Up Productions at the Palace Theatre for four years. Is it unusual for them to put on an original show?
To my knowledge, this is only the second original show that the Curtain Up people have put on here. The first, “Cashing It In,” was a few years ago by Jeff Koplas, who encouraged me to write “Ripper.” They do a lot of shows here, mostly musicals. Everyone knows someone who was in a Palace show at some point in the last 10 or 15 years. But it’s an honor, and I am so grateful to Chris Parada, the executive director at the Palace, for giving me the opportunity. And it’s such a great venue, because there’s so much history in the theater itself.
What is your favorite role?
My favorite role is the one I just finished here. We did “Les Miserables” – here (at the Palace.) I played Jean Valjean. That was definitely my favorite role of all time.
You must be a great singer to carry a role like that. Do you enjoy singing?
I’ve done a lot of straight plays, too, but I’ve done musical theater for most of that 30-year period.
Do you remember your first role?
My first role, as a child, I was in kindergarten, and I played an elephant. I have no idea why, but I remember I played an elephant. I don’t even remember what the show was about.
So it’s in your blood, back to your days as an elephant boy.
Both my parents did theater when I was little, so I grew up around it. One of my grandfathers did theater also.
You’ve done everything, directing and acting, but this is your first time as a playwright. What made you decide to write a play?
I had directed a number of plays. The ones that I loved the most, I directed a production of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” I am very much into that sort of thing. I thought Jack the Ripper was a great story, so I searched and tried to find a great stage version of Jack the Ripper. There’s a number of plays about Jack the Ripper, there’s even some musicals, but I couldn’t find one I liked. It went on the back burner for a while, but a friend of mine, Jack Koplas, who’s in this production, said to me, “Why don’t you just write one,” and I said, “Oh sure I’ll just snap my fingers.” But over the next few years, I formulated a concept in my head and was prompted by Jeff and put some stuff down on paper.
How hard was it to write your own script?
It was definitely consuming. I had read some books on the Ripper murders and the story and history, so when I decided I was going to do this, I reread those books and did some more research, and that became all-consuming for several months. After a while that was all I was reading about and thinking about. All I was looking at was these horrible murders, and there’s some really detailed graphic descriptions of them. I sometimes had to take a day off.
Why Jack the Ripper?
It was the kind of story I was interested in, but I don’t know why it clicked with me. What intrigues me more is now it just happens to be the 125th anniversary of the murders. One hundred twenty-five years later everyone is still talking about it.
Why do you think that is?
Because it’s never been solved. No one knows who did it. No one is ever going to know who did it, and that’s one of the things that is mentioned in the play. Everyone who writes a book has a theory. I decided I don’t care. It’s the murders themselves. My wife said, “You just have to decide whose story you are going to tell.” I decided the story I wanted to tell was about the victims, the neighborhood, the people who lived through this terror for this period of months
Do you have a theory? Will we find out who did it in your play?
I don’t want to give too much away. I will say, in this play, you will discover the identity of Jack the Ripper. I have six murders. All six were real women. There are five that are considered canon, and I added one that occurred right before, and I think there’s reasonably strong evidence to include her. All the main characters are real people, and my actors, on their own, researched their back stories.
We know all these women are going to die. Do we get attached to them?
You get to know them and who they were. They all are very different, but have the same similarities. They live in White Chapel, which was not a great place to be. Definitely the lowest of the slums in London at the time.
Is it graphic?
The play itself, generally speaking, is not very graphic. There are a couple of moments that could be considered graphic, and there are graphic descriptions of things that occurred, but they are all real descriptions. I didn’t need to make anything up, because what he did got progressively worse. It was horrible enough I didn’t need to embellish. It’s definitely PG-13, but not any worse than an episode of “CSI.”
The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11, 12, 18 and 19 and at 3 p.m. Oct 13 and 20. Tickets are available online at www.lockportpalacetheatre.org, by phone at 438-1130 or at the box office at 2 East Ave. Tickets are $13 students, $15 seniors and $18 adults.
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