Serial killers matched with Italian operas?

Not a normal mix.

Neither was “The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer,” a creative and unique combination of opera, drama, and light and dark comedy presented at the Quick Center yesterday evening.

The show opened with a simply set stage; an orchestra of about 30 instrumentalists filled most of the space while a single table and swivel chair were set on the front of the stage.

To start the show, the orchestra played an introductory piece, filling the atmosphere of the Quick Center with an ominous, dramatic, and suspenseful feeling.

Martin Haselböck, the conductor of the Orchester Wiener Akademie, appeared so at ease leading his musicians that it was almost like watching a dance being performed before the actions of the play had even begun. The music continued as a backdrop throughout much of the performance.

Dressed in a striking white suit complete with white shoes and a black and white polka-dotted shirt, Malkovich emerged onstage following the musical introduction, speaking in a thick Austrian accent.

Fully immersed in his character of Jack Unterweger, a real-life serial killer known for murdering at least eleven women, he skillfully plays along the boundaries of humor and fear.

It was a play to the extremes; Unterweger’s funny moments were fully entertaining, bringing the audience to full laughter on more than one occasion, while the haunting moments pushed the limits of dark comedic theatre.

The play had an element of spontaneity and improvisation to it, notable when Unterweger threw in comments about recent events or upcoming performances.

Unterweger mentioned that he was glad that “so many of you were able to tear yourselves away from Occupy Wall Street” to attend the show, and continued to crack jokes to create a light, entertaining mood at the beginning of the show.

The funny mood did not last long.

While humor permeated a great deal of his narrative, the performance took a sharp twisted turn and dove into the darker elements of Unterweger’s criminal mind.

Descriptions of his past serial killings and methods of eluding consequences were punctuated with clever quips and stark Italian operas.

Much of the opera was performed stunningly by two soprano singers, Marie Arnet and Kirsten Blaise. The operas reinforced the storyline through emotional musical portrayals of a variety of characters and were translated from Italian to English through subtitles provided on a screen hanging above the stage.

“My life… how to start?” Unterweger asks the audience to introduce his narrative. His first lesson as a child was to learn how to smile, but as he tells the audience, that was a lie.

In reality, he explains, his first lesson was how to lie or to actually be “economical with the truth. Even from a young age, he has been troublesome.

“Everything bad worked out so perfectly,” Unterweger explains, causing him to continue his dark behavior throughout his life.

Throughout the work, Unterweger struggles to discern between truth and falsities.

Consistently, he talks about the importance of being truthful and avoiding lies, warning that they come back to haunt the liar in the end.

To conclude his work, he gave a truthful explanation to his madness, after he consults “the land where the truth comes from…and that land, of course…Wikipedia.”

The site tells him – and the audience – the truth of his murders; he was originally convicted of the first series of killings, imprisoned for fifteen years, and then let out of prison only to kill more innocent women.

In the end, he explains, he was discovered by the FBI but took his own life before a verdict to his case could be reached.

A posthumous deliberation is reached: he is innocent, because of a technicality in Austrian law that outlines that due to his death prior to an appeal of his verdict, the court’s decision of his guilt no longer applies.

Therefore, the character who has appeared onstage is speaking posthumously, demonstrating another aspects of the performance’s clever interpretation of perspective.

About 750 people filled the seats of the Quick Center for the event that sold out weeks before the production.

Tickets were almost impossible to come by, with many interested parties stuck waiting to hear if their names would be taken off the call list, granting them tickets and access to the production.

Audience members milled around after the conclusion of the performance, abuzz with excitement and commentary about the show.

Many attended a small function held in the Walsh Art Gallery; Malkovich greeted those who had stayed after his performance, thanking them for attending.

Malkovich, a renowned and respected actor recognized for a variety of cinematic works, has also produced and directed films.

He is most known for his work in “The Glass Menagerie,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” and “Being John Malkovich.”

As a result, he has accrued a number of Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.

Malkovich was not the only celebrity present at Tuesday night’s performance; Brendan Fraser, well-known actor recognized for a number of films, was also at the Quick Center performance.

He was clearly impressed by Malkovich’s performance, classifying it as a very unique work.

“It was opera, it was drama, it was theatre, it was comedy, it was tragedy…[it was] compelling to watch,” Fraser said.

He went on to note that the spontaneity of the show was one of its strongest points.

“I don’t know if [Malkovitch] knows what he’s going to do from moment to moment …it’s deliberate, and yet it’s never happened before…or has it?” he questioned. “You need only watch the orchestra…you can see they’re watching, [you can] see their fascination” with Malkovitch’s varying behavior onstage.

Dr. Philip Eliasoph, professor of Visual and Performing Arts, noted, “Tonight’s performance was a tour de force of the seasoned actor of stage and screen, giving Fairfield his gifts” through his performance.

Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, director of the Peace & Justice Studies Department, said, “I thought that the female characters were extremely interesting; they reminded me of women who are trapped between danger and love, [similar to a work] by Kathleen Jones.”

Students also felt that the performance was an intriguing work.

Casey Grambo ’12 said, “I think it was really beautiful and terrifying, and also just so funny! It’s a piece of art.”

She also added that the comedy used in conjunction with descriptions of the murder’s violent past “puts a screen over what he’s doing.”

The performance was partially funded by the Fairfield University Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences.

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