Jack the Ripper is back, and this time he's out for more than just blood. Taking Tea With the Ripper, Mike Broemmel's deeply disturbing one-man-play, speculates on the the kind of twisted, sexually depraved, rage-filled, misogynistic, and xenophobic madness that might drive a man to brutally murder perhaps as many as eleven women and savagely mutilate their bodies amidst the squalor and desperation of the Whitechapel district in Victorian London.
It's hard to watch, but even more difficult to turn away, thanks to a harrowing and haunting performance by Paul Escobedo as Ripper.
The mono-drama, which has been significantly upgraded since the last production, plays through Halloween at the otherwise giggle-gushing downtown Bovine Metropolis Theater.
Since no one was ever convicted of the legendary Jack the Ripper crimes of 1888, the author has selected one of the most likely suspects, and made passing references to several of the other possibilities. But Taking Tea is no police procedural or cold case exposé. Without contradicting any of the established facts, the play turns inward, painting a disturbing, blood-red portrait of madness run amuck.
In fact, the first act has very little to do with the crimes themselves, as Ripper, currently in between atrocities, waxes horrific on the proper making and serving of tea (the water must be VIOLENTLY boiling), fantasizes being buggered by King Henry VIII, expresses his distaste for "that bloated cow" Queen Victoria and in fact all women, spews venom at the influx of foreigners, and praises sexual liaisons with boy prostitutes.
It's the second act that gets really, really messed up (by comparison), as a blood-smeared, knife-wielding Ripper, hands deep in gore, rants over the corpse of his latest kill.
The subject matter and visuals are hard R-rated. There's a lot of blood, gore, a gaping abdominal cavity and the removal of organs. Most of the pornographic language is from the Victorian era and therefore sounds somewhat quaint.
And yet, shocking and horrifying as Taking Tea With the Ripper is, there's artistry in Broemmel's script, with recurring leitmotifs, a strong sense of cohesion despite the raving lunatic character, and even oblique social commentary about what happens when a cultural "melting pot" boils over.
Escobedo's performance as the insane and quite possibly possessed Ripper is scary, unpredictable, yet does not go over the top. There's no ham in this sandwich, which makes it all the more unsettling.
This isn't going to be everyone's "cup of tea," but for those with strong stomachs and a willingness to go way, way down the rabbit hole into the mind of a perverted, rage-filled madman, be ready for this show to come back home with you.