Monday, October 22 , 2018, 11:38 pm | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

Gerald Carpenter: John Malkovich Stars in Killer Role in ‘The Infernal Comedy’

UCSB Arts & Lectures performance is one night only Monday at The Granada

John Malkovich stars as the suave Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger in the West Coast premiere of The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, part of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ fall lineup.

Soprano Laura Aikin plays a victim of Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger (John Malkovich) in 'The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer,' on Monday at The Granada.
Soprano Laura Aikin plays a victim of Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger (John Malkovich) in The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, on Monday at The Granada.

The show is written and directed by Michael Sturminger, with music direction and concept by Martin Haselböck, music director of the ensemble Musica Angelica.

Billed as “a stage play for Baroque orchestra, two sopranos and an actor,” the show will play in Santa Barbara one night only, at 8 p.m. Monday at The Granada, 1214 State St.

If you want to believe in the possibility of rehabilitation, Unterweger’s story is a nightmare. In 1974, he was convicted of murdering a German girl, whom he had strangled with her own bra, and sentenced to life in prison (in Austria “life” means 25 years, with 15 years to parole). He was a model prisoner, to all appearance a thoroughly repentant and reformed character. He wrote short stories, poems, plays and an autobiography, Fegefeuer –- eine Reise ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory—a trip to prison), the last of which was the basis for The Infernal Comedy.

So exemplary an inmate was Unterweger that Austrian intellectuals, including 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, petitioned the government to pardon him. (I might add that when the Nobel committee voted to award the literature prize to Jelinek, two of its members resigned in protest.) Their petition was unsuccessful.

In 1991, Unterweger, having served the requisite 15 years, was released on parole. He was now a celebrity, and hosted television programs that discussed criminal rehabilitation. (The Infernal Comedy sets Unterweger’s story in the context of a book tour.) He also resumed his career as a murderer almost immediately, killing six Austrian prostitutes in his first year out, plus a probable three more in Los Angeles, where he was sent — if you can believe it — by an Austrian magazine, to write about the different attitudes about prostitution in the United States and Austria.

In 1992, he was arrested by the Austrian police and charged with 11 murders. A jury convicted him of nine of the killings, and he was sentenced to life without parole. That same evening, he hanged himself in his cell. Because he died before he could appeal his convictions, he remains officially innocent under Austrian law.

Set to the music of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and others, performed by the esteemed Santa Monica baroque ensemble, Musica Angelica, the play tells its bizarre, macabre story through monologues and arias. It is essentially a one character show, with guest victims.

Before seeing it, just about the only thing that doesn’t baffle me about The Infernal Comedy is the choice of Malkovich to play Unterweger. I’m sure it will be witty and entertaining. I’m sure the music will be beautiful, and exquisitely performed. I’m sure that Malkovich will be spell-binding. But, why ...?

Tickets are $43, $58, $78 and $153 (general public); $28 (UCSB students with valid ID). Click here to purchase tickets online, or call UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805.893.3535.

Click here to purchase tickets online through The Granada, or call 805.899.2222.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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