by George Perry
Massey Hall in Toronto hosts an orchestra, two sopranos, a murder and John Malkovich
Rushing down to Massey Hall, I saw an abandoned crutch on the subway platform. I shall remember that image forever; it is how I will remember this play.
The night before seeing The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer as part of the LuminaTO festival, my friend Mike gave me a book about psychopaths. He thought it might help me out in the corporate world. Clinical analysis shows that psychopaths appear more normal than normal.
Everyone knows that John Malkovich is a master. Part of being one is refusing to rest on previous laurels. He’s certainly one of the finest actors alive, and refuses to stagnate. He doesn’t allow stardom to become a crutch.
Confessions is a story about a serial killer. Malkovich plays Jack Unterweger, an animal who killed scores of women. Unterweger served a mere 15 years in prison before being released and living a playboy lifestyle.
Malkovich plays this role perfectly. Is there any other actor who can be at once sickening yet engaging? Like Unterweger, Malkovich is a dilemma, a dichotomy. On one hand, he is a creepy superstar, on the other he’s “one of us”.
Upon entering Massey, we see seats arranged in a horseshoe shape towards the back of the stage. As the performance begins, a 29 piece orchestra will fill these places. After the orchestra assembles, acclaimed conductor Martin Haselbock assumes command at the centre of the storm.
Malkovich arrives on stage. Aside from the white vinyl shoes he borrowed from my uncle Bill, he looks like he just walked off the set of Miami Vice. He wears a white suit and a purple shirt with white polka dots. His Austrian accent is so convincing, that it sounds more authentic than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
There is a folding table at the front and centre of the stage. This serves as Malkovich’s base. It serves as a pulpit, a place to fornicate with women and a place to contemplate suicide. On either side of the stage are two gorgeous sopranos. Between Malkovich’s monologues, their voices fill Massey Hall.
Marie Arnet, as Soprano II nearly stole the show. Her performance was awarded with warm, heartfelt ovations.
The orchestra assembles and plays a piece of music. It’s a buffet of brilliance.
Malkovich summons several ghosts in this production. Working the table, Malkovich reminds us of Spalding Gray, an actor he worked with in 1984.
“Normally I don’t like this type of music” says Malkovich to the conductor and the audience. We agree, leaving the crutch of what we like behind. Instead of rock or pop, we are astonished by amazing performances of two wonderful sopranos. My gosh, how does a sound so huge come from a human?
Malkovich kills women onstage. He leaves a trail of flower petals between Sopronao I and Soprano II. Unterweger killed woman in real life. A bra was the weapon of choice. A crutch, something that makes you more beautiful, something that makes you more desirable can also be your downfall.
Malkovich interacts with the audience, breaking down the walls. He mingles and gives the conductor directions. He asks a blonde in the fourth row about her recent sexual escapades. We know he is a psychopath, but he is engaging.
As fantastic as the sopranos were, the normally impeccable acoustics of Massey Hall were brought into question. Malkovich screaming about his hatred for Mac computers was garbled by the time it reached my ears. Also, the orchestral sounds could have been improved by the use of some variance in volume.
The table and Unterweger are both very Machiavellian. This shall be his downfall. He tangles a rope around his table, his pulpit, and around the conductor. He commits suicide onstage. Or does he?
I have issues celebrating the lives of serial killers. As astonishing as the performances are, I can’t really get my head around the concept of art inspired by brutal murder. Maybe that’s the point. Unterweger became a celebrity while imprisoned, a celebrated man of letters.
Do we accept that veneer? Do we toss bread crumbs to the blue headed starling and let it soil us? Or do we leave our crutches at the door?
– The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer played at Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street) on June 11 and 12 2010 as part of Toronto’s LuminaTO Festival.