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Malkovich becomes killer at Bass

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

This week, being John Malkovich means morphing into the character of Jack Unterweger, real-life Austrian serial killer in the opera-laced play, "The Infernal Comedy."

The show plays Bass Concert Hall Monday and Tuesday.

Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison in 1976 for murdering a young girl. But he became a literary celebrity after the publication of his autobiography, and he was held up as a model of rehabilitation. After he was paroled in 1990, Unterweger went on to murder 11 more women in Europe and then the United States before he was jailed once again.

In "The Infernal Comedy," written and directed by Michael Sturminger, Unterweger is mysteriously back from the grave and on a book tour for his latest autobiography. In a series of monologues, the killer narrates for the audience his sordid and shocking history.

Each of the eight monologues concludes with an aria - by Gluck, Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi and others - sung live by two sopranos, who are both alluring targets for Unterweger's psychotic desires.

"I try to give my characters the fullest, most complex life you can in the time you have. And present them to the public, and let the public then make a judgment about what they saw," Malkovich said in a statement about the show. "I am not a judge. People's reactions will always be different. `The Infernal Comedy,' for example, has had very different reactions in just about every city we have been in. You never know. Some people have seen the production as an attempt to glorify Jack Unterweger. But it is really not that."

"(It) is an attempt, in a way, to create the situation that arose when Unterweger was released from prison.

"Here comes this guy, he is in a white suit, he is charming, he is funny, he tells silly jokes, he is childish. People generally are charmed by him, but then they begin to find out who he is. And that re-creates the experience I think that a lot of the Austrian populous had. I do not see it as in any way glorifying him at all. I cannot say all monsters because I do not know, but a lot of monsters have a human face. They have some human feelings, maybe even a lot of them. Maybe they have some good qualities - maybe a lot of them. This piece shows it, but I do not think the production glorifies the monster in any way."

"The Infernal Comedy"