The Infernal Comedy

THE INFERNAL COMEDY John Malkovich’s two-day gig presented by ArtsEmerson at the Paramount was fraught with tension. He played a serial killer back from the dead hawking his memoirs (Just once I’d like to see him play the normal neighbor next door.) with an orchestra playing arias from Vivaldi to Weber. In the course of the evening Malkovich strangles the sopranos with brassieres. People tittered nervously, not knowing whether to laugh or be horrified.

The point- which has been made ad nauseum and should come as no surprise to anyone who has thought at all about pop culture- is that we are ALL complicit. And yes, the truth is hard to find. In this age of reality TV, guts-spilling memoirs, and the commercialization and sensationalization of gruesome sex crimes on TV shows like CSI and  LAW & ORDER: Special Victims Unit — we are ALL complicit.  Did I say that?  That means you and me and anyone who showed up in the audience that night as Malkovich wagged his fingers at us and played hide and seek with his Austrian accent.

This pretentious “Musikoncept” sprang full-blown and half-baked from the brow of Martin Haselbock who based it on real- life Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger. The arias dragged, the concept was stale, and the character failed to find a life onstage. The show did confirm that I could watch Malkovich doing anything, even this; HE is utterly engaging, and–ironically– hyper-natural onstage, as though he had just wandered in from the street and started talking.

But none of that was fraught with tension. No, the dramatic climax of the evening was unintentionally provided by one of the sopranos whose gown threatened to fall off when Malkovich accidentally broke the straps mid-strangulation.  She went on to sing an entire aria holding up the top half of her dress, as the audience squirmed. They should probably work that into the show.