NEW YORK — It's hard to believe, but John Malkovich has found a way to appear even creepier.
The intense, reptilian actor is currently starring as a serial killer in a deeply odd show that opened Thursday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music which combines elements of opera, chamber orchestra and theater. How odd is it? At several points Malkovich strangles a soprano with a bra in front of several violinists.
It's based on the real-life story of Austrian serial killer Jack Unerweger, who was released from prison in 1990 after writing a celebrated memoir and claiming he was rehabilitated. He went on to kill about a dozen prostitutes in America and Europe before hanging himself when he was sent back behind bars.
In the show, "The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer," Malkovich plays Unerweger 15 years after his death, as he conducts a ghostly promotional book tour to sell his posthumous story. He explains that the full orchestra arrayed behind him and the addition of opera singers is his editor's idea to add some pizazz to the tour.
Dressed in a white suit and a back-and-white polka dot shirt, Malkovich's Unerweger prowls about the stage offering stories of his life in an inconsistently thick Viennese accent and with a merciless expression on his face. He seems always to be lying and manipulating, knowing that the audience wants answers to his murderous motives.
"Why? Do I know it myself? Does Jekyll know about Hyde? Well ... are you really expecting an answer to these questions? Buy my book!" he says.
His scenes alternate with the appearance of three young women – the cast alternates – who represent various women in the serial killer's life – his mother, his loves, his victims. As they sing operatic snippets from Mozart, Hayden and Vivaldi, he seduces them, ties them up, strikes them or kills them.
It is, oddly, funny, even if it doesn't all work. Malkovich, who played the over-the-top killer Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom in "Con Air," is clearly lampooning the fame industry as well as his own public image, and the production deserves kudos for mixing classical and contemporary worlds. But, c'mon: This is one of the weirdest cultural mash-ups since Hannibal Lecter had a cooking show on Nickelodeon. (Oh, wait, that's not true.)
Written and directed by Michael Sturminger with conducting by Martin Haselbock, the show has been touring since it made its debut in 2008 and will be in Brooklyn for just four performances. After that, it can mess up other peoples' dreams.