On a cold foggy night, Mary Jane Kelly seeks after-hours refuge in the Ten Bells Pub. She’s behind in her rent, she’s lost her key, she’s alone, and it’s 1888 – a bad time to be poor and “unfortunate” on the streets of London, where one of history’s most notorious serial killers is at work.
When she discovers a lone stranger drinking in the closed pub, Mary sees an opportunity to turn her situation around, embarking on a desperate attempt to sell her story rather than herself.
Winner of the Gloria Ann Peter and Susan Glaspell playwriting awards, Aoise Stratford’s THE UNFORTUNATES is a rich and riveting exploration of an unforgettable moment in time, and a woman who deserves to be remembered for much more than her death.
The New York Times called it “haunting…engrossing” and TimeOut New York gave it 4 stars and said, “it achieves a rare combination of pathos and humor, breathing fresh life into women we might have otherwise think of only as long-dead prey.”
“THE ROUGH AND OCCASIONALLY TENDER TEXTURE OF THIS TIME AND PLACE COME TO LIFE. THIS WOMAN BECOMES MORE THAN A NAME ON A CRIME BLOTTER, TO BE AN ACTUAL, THREE-DIMENSIONAL PERSON WORTHY OF HER OWN STORY.”
~ CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“GAIL RASTORFER AS KELLY IS ENGAGING… SHE FLIRTS, CAJOLES, BARGAINS, AND RELIVES HER DESPERATE LIFE STORY, COMPLETE WITH MULTIPLE CHARACTERS AND ACCENTS.”
~ CHICAGO READER
“A TRULY MARVELOUS PERFORMANCE WHICH SPANS HILARIOUS SATIRE AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY TO THE DEEPEST PAIN AND SORROW, GAIL RASTORFER RESTORES A LIVING FACE TO SOMEONE WHO IS REMEMBERED ONLY FOR BEING A VICTIM.”
~ CHICAGO CRITIC
“GAIL RASTORFER IS MAGNIFICENT. SHE CAPTURES THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF A STRONG WOMAN, MAKING THIS CHARACTER HONEST, HUMANE, AND SOMEONE WE CARE ABOUT VERY MUCH.”
~ CHICAGO THEATRE REVIEW
SoloChicago has another hit to its credit, on the recent heels of their previous excellent production of “Churchill.” Kurt Johns has found an exciting, spine-tingling play that’s deserving of this company’s typically professional production. It’s a captivating portrait of a real person, a strong, admirable survivor who becomes much more than a mere statistic as Jack the Ripper’s last victim. And in Gail Rastorfer’s hands, guided by Kurt Johns and his gifted technical team, this play is an absolute must-see, guaranteed to bring chills to a warm summer Chicago night.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review
The Unfortunates, staged by the new SoloChicago Theatre Company, is an excellent second outing from the company that produced the hit one-man show, Churchill, starring Ronald Keaton, in 2015…Rastorfer, skillfully directed by Kurt Johns, is a convincing Mary Jane, sometimes gay and chatty and sometimes wrenchingly sad and fearful. She portrays, with voice, manner and gesture, all the other characters in her life. The 85-minute play at Theater Wit is a history lesson and a human story.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Nancy Bishop, Third Coast Review
Victims of serial and mass killers are often thought to be people who were simply unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and therefore, to prevent future atrocities, a greater study should be made of the killer. Stratford seems interested in challenging that idea, in as much as that Jack the Ripper’s victims were recognized even in their own time as people who had been written off and undervalued, and therefore, their targeting was not totally random and Victorian London had some soul-searching to do. Getting into the habit of listening to people like Mary Jane Kelly may be one of the most potent ways to prevent repeats of what happened to her. At the very least, with Rastorfer’s performance, it’s a fine way to pass the time in its own right.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, MUST SEE! – Jacob Davis, ChicagoCritic
“POWERFULLY REALISTIC…Aoise Stratford’s The Unfortunates is the story of one woman’s struggle through the violence and atrocities that women faced in 1800’s Victorian London. It shows us the plight of Mary Jane Kelly, the prostitute believed to be the final victim of Jack the Ripper. Kelly, played by Gail Rastorfer, recounts her life as one of the ‘unfortunate’ women, growing up poor and being forced into a life of prostitution. The story is told through a one-on-one conversation between Kelly and a stranger in the Bells Public House, where she reveals her life story of how she went from a housewife in a Welsh mining town to a desperate prostitute turning tricks in the London’s East End. Although opportunity from generous clients has taken her as far as Paris, presently she hasn’t even enough to pay rent.”
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – Stacey L. Crawley, ShowBizChicago
Since the beginning of time, women have been marginalized in history – particularly those on the fringes of society. The Unfortunates highlights one such woman, in a matter-of-fact, humorous and empathetic story that never loses its sense of existential dread and horror. We know from the beginning that nothing good will happen to Mary Jane Kelly once she leaves the deserted pub, and we empathize with her hard-luck existence and the measures she’s been forced to take to keep herself alive. Beautifully written, directed and acted, The Unfortunates looks back on a dark time in history and the first tabloid serial killer. Aoise Stratford’s darkly funny and disturbing one-woman play is intelligently directed by Kurt Johns and wonderfully performed by Gail Rastorfer, resulting in a most memorable 85 minutes.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Rating: ★★★½ – Lauren Whalen, Chicago Theatre Beat