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Jack the Ripper and crazy puppets
conjure havoc in play ‘Dear Boss’
»» By Gita Rai Gulati


The name Paul Bernard can catch people's attention. Charles Manson can stir people's interests. Jack the Ripper can make people go mad.

'Dear Boss' is a play that explores the craze surrounding mass murderers. This chaos follows the furor that Jack the Ripper created when he anonymously murdered prostitutes. Jack the Ripper was never officially caught, but there were many suspects.

One of the suspects the police publicly pointed to was Eric Woolfe's (playwright) great, great uncle. This family lineage and the Washington Sniper case last summer inspired Woolfe to write 'Dear Boss'.

He sets his play in England at the time of the Ripper murders. It is the story of a young man trying to solve the Ripper murders and the mishmash of people he engages in order to do so.

This play is concocted of some unlikely heroes, a surprisingly lewd and humourous script, an exploration of issues that are still relevant today and the quirky use of puppetry.

It's a strange sort of medicine that Wolfe is administering, but it works. The play feels like a dream, as Woolfe eccentrically examines a nightmare.

The dreamlike atmosphere of the play is largely by the way Woolfe's elements clash. His hero is a young American man who is determined to solve the identity of Jack the Ripper.

This man believes in all kinds of ridiculous magical and mystical things, so it is no surprise when his sidekick turns out to be the Elephant Man.

Woolfe's heroine in the story is an unwed pregnant prostitute contemplating abortion. Her lover is an ordinary fisherman who can't pay the bills. These characters generally seem either silly or just downright boring but Woolfe manages to bring depth and soul to each of them.

The naiveté of the American detective touches our heart, and we sympathize with the Elephant Man's loneliness and kind heart. The prostitute's strength wins us over and even the boring fisherman evokes a response from us by the end of the play.

Woolfe manages to look deep within the soul of his characters without getting sappy and dramatic.

Rather, he reveals his characters through humourous interchanges that are often rude, crude and shocking. He further pushes the envelope with his exploration of contemporary issues in this play.

He questions racism, as he examines the blame that the Jews received from the police in the murders.

He explores woman's right to abortion and women's freedom; one memorable scene has a sorceress defending abortion as the only way to free oppressed unmarried women.

He even questions the societal stereotype of what makes a man mad. He does this through his examination of not only Jack the Ripper's motives, but the strange men themselves who are fascinated with him.

Woolfe uses numerous puppets to portray these men, as well as suspects, police men and prostitutes. The puppets are well composed, and of various sizes and shapes. Their clashes in appearance help to give the play its frenzied effect.

At times the men behind the puppets can be distracting. The actors did not manage to keep out of sight behind the puppets. It seemed as though it was almost done purposely but it was distracting. It was also disappointing since the puppets were so well designed; it was a pity to lose focus of them.

Of course, the cast had to be forgiven. It wasn't only their multi- tasking (they each played a hero, as well as various puppets).

It wasn't even the admirable scenes where the actors are not only playing one of the heroes, but also a puppet character who is interacting with the hero.

The cast consisted of Rebecca Northan, Michael Waller and the playwright himself, Eric Woolfe. Each one of them is endowed with an amazing stage presence and charisma. It was this that made the bare set forgivable, the unreadable signs dismissible and the distractions forgettable.

By the end of the play, fish fall from the sky, and you realize you have just seen something rare: a playwright with immense promise. You almost have to shake your head before exiting the theatre.

'Dear Boss' is a trippy, witty, intelligent play that utilizes many fresh approaches to theatre, and thought.

'Dear Boss' manages to evoke a similar reaction to what people feel in reaction to mass murderers; I suspect that Eric Woolfe is more than a little crazy, yet at the same time I will be waiting anxiously and almost compulsively to see what he'll do next.