Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Ripper's Last Log
Also see Sharon's review of Romance
With all of this, it isn't difficult to piece together the entire tragic event. Brandon, calling himself Ripper, took a major drug overdose while sitting in front of a webcam - in front of a "room" full of people who were either unable or unwilling to help him. It is a horrible true story, which looks to make a fascinating play, promising an examination of the line between voyeur and accomplice, set in the not yet completely understood quasi-community of an Internet chatroom.
The problem with the play is that none of that good stuff is in there. It opens with Ripper turning on his webcam; he takes a massive amount of drugs (to the cheers of the chatroom); his condition quickly deteriorates; the people in the chatroom eventually realize his condition is serious; shortly thereafter, they realize he is going to die. Forty-five minutes from the moment the play began, Ripper is dead (or dying) and the chatroom knows it. And that's all there is to the play.
Part of the problem is that the play is taken directly from the chatroom log. There doesn't appear to have been any editing for dramatic purposes. It isn't like a documentary-style play where the real words spoken by the subjects are reorganized to some thought-provoking effect. There doesn't even appear to be any editing for ease of storytelling. As anyone who has been in a chatroom knows, sometimes one comment is directed at something someone said a few lines earlier - not the immediately preceding line. It's difficult enough to follow when you're in the chatroom yourself, and you have to keep scrolling up to figure out who each person is responding to. But when the dialogue is performed live, each line being read in order, with little interpretive assistance provided by the staging, the result is downright confusing. (The presence of a chat robot, which had been programmed by Ripper to provide preprogrammed responses to certain words, just adds to the cacophony. She shouts "Ripper is a gangster!" any time someone says, "Ripper," and she rapidly sing-songs lengthy bits of incomprehensible dialogue in response to various other words.)
The other problem arises from the fact that the people in this particular chatroom are not particularly eloquent or even interesting. And it does not appear that adapter Rory C. Mitchell has done anything to turn the chatroom denizens into theatrical characters. For each person in that chatroom, there had to have been a moment when they realized things were going too far and a decision they had to make regarding whether to intervene. But, with the exception of one character who leaves the chatroom early (not wanting to see Ripper's overdose play out) and another who knows Ripper's condition is serious from the moment he enters, all of the characters are indistinguishable. It is hard to see the journey any particular individual took on that fateful night. On the whole, it just plays like a room of self-centered drug-using losers who goad one of their number into destroying himself, and fail to get him help because they don't want to bring law enforcement down on themselves. The story itself is appalling, but the dramatization is no more moving than would be a newspaper article dispassionately reporting the tale. Mitchell's desire to present the true story as it actually happened is admirable, but it just doesn't make good theatre.
Ripper's Last Log plays at LATC in Downtown Los Angeles through October 23, as part of the 7th Annual Edge of the World Festival. For tickets, please call 866-811-4111.
The All Spot Company Presents Ripper's Last Log. Adapted and directed by Rory C. Mitchell; Produced by Andy Hyman; Lighting Design Susan Adele Havens; Costume Design Molly Atkinson; Set Design Colin Day; Music Consultant Dave Lang; Art Design Caitlin Mitchell; Graphic Design Andrew Carbone; Publicity David Elzer/Demand PR.