Malkovich shines but the avant-garde aspects of The Infernal Comedy fall flat
The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer is...interesting, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. Described as "a stage play for a Baroque Orchestra, two sopranos and one actor," it's just that...and more...and less...and therein lies the problem.
If you go to hear beautiful music played by a skilled orchestra (with the exception of one horribly flat French Horn), then 25% of your evening will be wonderful.
If you go to watch one of Chicago's finest actors and to have the pants charmed, confused, and even a little bit scared off you, then another 25% of your evening will be awesome.
But, even with these positives, it still doesn't add up.
Structured as a a book tour for a posthumously written memoir by the real-life Austrian serial killer, celebrated author, journalist and poet, Jack Unterweger (say that five times fast!), Malkovich effortlessly brings us into the world of the production. We buy it. We buy him. We even buy the orchestra onstage with him and the women who sing to and about him - at the suggestion of his publisher. This is suspension of disbelief on a grand scale because there's nothing to help him but an Austrian accent, a banquet table upholstered in poker green, a grey office chair, some of his books, two spotlights and a bit of string.
Speaking to the audience and the orchestra alike, we slowly learn about his history, his time in prison, his way with the ladies, his pardon, his journalism, his additional murders, his love, his recapture, his suicide, and his struggle with conventional notions of truth even as he admits that he "could not find a quality more desirable than honesty, but it was not given to me." He's a truly intriguing character, and regardless of the dark subject matter, the production stays true to the comedy promised in the title.
Unfortunately, while I can only assume the music and singing is meant to illuminate the production by providing unintellectualized guidance (in the way that only music can), it instead jarred me back into Massey Hall, giving the feeling that I was watching a recital. It's not that the sopranos aren't also good actors - they are - but the idea feels as though it's the product of someone saying: "wouldn't this be cool." In other words, it resembles a workshop or an "experimental" piece of theatre that hasn't quite proven its hypothesis, and that sucks.
All that said, if Luminato is about stretching the boundaries of art and creativity, engaging new audiences in forms they might not be interested in or familiar with, then "The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer" has definitely found its place and is a more than worthwhile evening at the theatre.
Image courtesy of Luminato.