Who is the Battersea Butcher? Three intrepid women choose solve the mystery of who is committing a series of gruesome murders of actresses in Patricia Milton’s new play, The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective (l to r: Jan Zvaifler, Stacy Ross, Chelsea Bearce). Photo: Jim Norrena

From Berkeley’s Central Works comes its 63rd world premiere play, The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective, by Patricia Milton. It’s an entertaining tale of three single women in Victorian London who solve a series of ghastly Jack the Ripper-type murders when the police don’t seem to be able to crack the case.

Sisters Loveday (the inimitable Stacy Ross) and Valeria (first-rate Jan Zvaifler) run a boarding house for “Single Ladies” who are actresses of the type the killer is targeting. Katie (outstanding Chelsea Bearce), an American actress and lodger, forms part of the triumvirate. Her combat skills and her notable (and amusing) use of a metal fan as a weapon are needed resources. And what’s worse, police Constable Henry Crane (talented Alan Coyne) won’t accept their help when it is offered. After all, the three are just women; how could they possibly help?

Amid the suspense over who done it are timely insights reminiscent of the #MeToo movement, as the three dreadful men in the cast (all well-played by Alan Coyne) belittle and insult the women and their capabilities. The rich and powerful Jasper is particularly despicable. But we know that the women will prevail. And therein lies the fun.

The play has two acts with one intermission and runs a little over two hours. As a Victorian drama, it’s a bit wordy, and the Central Works’ Berkeley City Club stage does not permit the actors to move around the stage as much as the director might like, so a bit of editing would not go amiss.

The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective reunites the successful team from Central Work’s 2018 hit, Bamboozled: skilled author Patricia Milton, accomplished director Gary Graves and actors Jan Zvaifler, Chelsea Bearce and Stacy Ross. Bearce and Ross were both winners of TBA Outstanding Performer awards for their roles in Bamboozled. They are now joined by Alan Coyne, a terrific newcomer to Central Works, who recently starred in A Time for Hawking on the Berkeley City Club stage.

Unfortunately, the Central Works’ Berkeley City Club theater can seat only about 50 people, since The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective is an entertaining story with wit and a modern sensibility, despite the actors wearing long, elaborate costumes.

The Victorian Ladies’ Detective Collective is playing through June 9. Advance tickets are $22-$38 online or $38–$15 sliding scale at the door. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit Central Works online.

Emily S. Mendel

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...