Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Local theater veteran Jon May didn’t plan on being a playwright. He just wanted to do a play about Jack the Ripper and couldn’t find anything he liked. So he wrote his own script.
On Friday, May’s “Ripper” will open at the Historic Palace Theatre.
Although May has performed in and directed all kinds of plays, from comedy to musicals to dramas, he began thinking about Jack the Ripper after directing a couple of horror classics.
“After Dracula and Frankenstein, I kind developed a fondness for the macabre, and I thought Jack the Ripper sounded kind of cool,” May said. “I read a lot of scripts — some were even musicals — but I couldn’t find one I liked.”
That’s when friend and fellow theater veteran Geoff Koplas suggested May write his own play about the famous serial killer, and the seeds of the script were planted.
It took nearly four years and lots of research, but eventually May developed a full-length play.
The production features 23 actors, all from Western New York, mostly from Lockport and the surrounding area. Theater-goers should recognize a number of the actors as former Four Seasons Players, the group that used to perform at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theater.
“I am really lucky to have a terrific cast and crew,” May said. “I have either performed with or been involved in a show with every single person in the cast, so it’s really been a great experience for me.”
In fact, the “Ripper” cast is a veritable Who’s Who of local theater denizens. Koplas is the narrator. Other Four Seasons alumni include Peg Merrill (who is also assistant director), Katie Merrill, Kathy Costello, Jennifer Ossant and Carol Williams. Veterans of the Lake Plains Players, Niagara Regional Theatre Guild, Niagara University, Lancaster Opera House and Palace productions have roles in May’s production too.
Peg Merrill, who’s both a veteran actor and director, says the cast and crew are excited about “Ripper.”
“It’s very unusual to have an original work. It’s quite a coup for the Palace and everyone else involved,” she said.
Merrill has been part of “Ripper” since the beginning, as she was among a group of friends and fellow actors who looked over the script as it was being written.
“It has been a very daunting task for Jon, but I think this is something that’s been with him for so long, he was compelled to do it,” she said. “It’s a much more intense and personal investment for Jon and for all of us, because it’s his own work.”
May has been involved in local theater productions almost all of his life. He started performing when he was 12 years old. He and his wife of 23 years, Lisa, have been together since he was an actor and she was working behind the scenes at Four Seasons productions. He took a bit of a break after the birth of his daughter almost 12 years ago, then returned to the theater scene in full force.
So far, May said, his favorite role has been Jean Valjean in the Palace’s production of Les Misérables.
“Ripper” is something of a family affair, with daughter Sophie cast as a newsboy and Lisa working backstage. May also is directing the play.
Although “Ripper” isn’t terribly violent, it has an adult theme and is unsuitable for young children, May said.
“There’s a lot left to the imagination, but as the murders escalate from the first to the sixth, they become more violent. It’s not gory, and there’s not much blood until the very end. I would liken it to a PG-13 rating,” he said.
“I didn’t have to create the real horror of this story, I just had to turn it into a narrative. Most of the characters have actual names; they were real people. The actresses who play those victims have researched them, and I think that adds a lot to their performance.”
Merrill said she believes the play will appeal to a wide audience.
“It’s timely for the season, and Jon has this compelling story to tell. It has a lot of historical quirks,” she said. “Also, at the beginning of the play, the narrator vows to tell who the Ripper is by the end of the play, and that’s a neat spin on it.”
Once his play’s run at the Palace is complete, May said he’ll probably take a break from theater.
“When it’s over, it will be the first time in a year that I don’t have anything right on the schedule,” he said. “It’ll be weird for me, but I have a feeling my wife is going to like it.”If you go WHAT: "Ripper," a play WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Oct. 18 and Oct. 19; 3 p.m. Oct. 13 and 20 WHERE: Historic Palace Theatre, 2 East Ave. TICKETS: $13, $15 and $18. Visit the Palace Box office, call 438-1130, go online to www.lockportpalacetheatre.org or stop by Mills Jewelers, 51 Main St. Jon May got some of his old Four Seasons cast mates together to stage 'Ripper,' his version of the story of the 19th century serial killer.