When a dead serial killer returns to the stage to present his autobiography in a public reading, a comedy is not exactly what we are in for; but what are we demanding, anyway, if we are waiting to see a new opera/play about a murderer of women, for an orchestra on period instruments, two sopranos and one actor?
The Infernal ComedyConfessions of a serial killer
a stage-play for a Baroque-Orchestra,
two Sopranos and one actor
by Michael Sturminger
Vienna performance version
A simple table with a glass of water and a pile of brand new copies of a voluminous paperback is all you see on the stage, while the orchestra plays
"Don Juan`s journey to hell" by Christoph Willibald Gluck
After the music has ended, a handsome man of middle age wearing a white suit and dark sunglasses enters the stage and welcomes the public with a brief, charming speech, to the primary reading of his latest and last novel titled "The infernal comedy".
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen...
I am really grateful that you have found your way into our little theatre.
It is decidedly not the Wiener Staatsoper, but... my editor is telling me it might even be more appropriate - they even tell me, that this once used to be the wiener staatsoper, after the staatsoper had been hit by an American bomb in the last days of the second world war.
Let me also start to apologize in a sincere, lifelike way for my very bad English, but I have grown up in Austria and like the governor of the great state of California, I am a living example of the impossibility of overcoming of an Austrian accent.
I must also take time off to acknowledge the presence of so attractive ladies in recognition of the possibility that my new book was only written to justify my lost soul to women - who have always been my determination, my world, my paradise, my desolation and my fate.
Perhaps this is only due to a quark of nature.
My name. Jack. You might ask what«s so special about being named Jack?
Jack, as you may know is Johannes or Hans in German, Juan and Giovanni in Spanish and Italian.
And of course, John. John may seem a common name. Just John.
But if you wear this name, women will love you or hate you - call you a liar or pervert - but they will never leave you alone.
Like it or not, that is the truth...
My life never has been deeply connected to this concept. As far as I can remember, the smallest amount of honesty would always have banned me behind bars for the rest of my life. So you see, I never was able to tell the truth...
And although I had been an acclaimed author of several plays and novels, I never wrote a single truthful word, as long as I lived.
Jack takes a copy of "The infernal comedy" and shows it to the audience.
But just to be clear, I wrote this new novel after my death, so you needn«t be concerned about throwing good money after bad. Now, finally, the time for confessions has come. Since every novel needs a certain amount of truthfulness, this evening could finally reveal my real qualities as a writer for the very first time.
Not too mention my qualities as a performer.
Jack looks to the left side of the stage, where two women are waiting to enter. Jack seems somehow distracted, by their entrance.
Yes and before I forget, I will have the pleasure to introduce you to two wonderful ladies, disposed to sing a few nice old fashioned pieces of music, while I will have to clear my throat.
Jack briefly points at two incredibly beautiful women in wonderful evening dresses, who make their appearances and receive a warm and friendly applause.
Jack suddenly cuts off the ovations with a harsh gesture, irritatingly different from his charming attitude so far and angrily indicates the singers, to go away and make their exit. Somehow irritated and baffled the ladies leave the stage, as Jack, all his captivating self again, addresses the public again.
Those two wonderful women will come back soon and, as our story goes on, represent several women of my life. Their music and singing was, to be honest right away, my editor«s idea and is supposed to help to underline the impact of the reading. Well, let«s not be unfair and give them a real chance...
For the beginning, we might content ourselves with an instrumental tune, while I prepare my introduction.
Ciaconda from "La Casa del Diavolo" by Luigi Boccherini
When the orchestra plays the first notes, Jack sits down on the chair behind his little table and starts to flip through the pages of his book. He seems uneasy and anxious. He is searching and reading and, as if not finding the appropriate page, he takes a zip of water, closes the book and listens impatiently to the music, until he suddenly waves towards the conductor, forcing the orchestra to stop. As soon the orchestra is quiet, Jack addresses the public again.
Excuse me for my interruption but I have yet to define the structure of this event and I know you may be expecting a performance but this is after all merely a reading and even so we barely had any rehearsal together and I am not really used to this kind of music - it makes me nervous. This has nothing to do with the quality of the orchestra or the conductor, but normally I am not able to stand this kind of music. It makes me physically stressed...
Especially, when I«m trying to think. It is merely a question of concentration and distraction.
But not to worry, I«ll soon be back on the saddle again.
For the meanwhile I would like to remind you some things about myself, because flipping through the pages of ma book it suddenly occurred to me that 15 years have passed since I passed away. I would also like to remind the public that 15 years is also the amount of time I spent in jail after having been convicted in 1976 of the crime of murder.
Therefore I can give my dear public all insurances that I am more than aware haw long 15 years can feel... pretty endless.
My life... How to start?
The first thing I learned was a smile and that smile was already a lie. So it would be fair to say the first thing I learned was to lie - or at least be economical with the truth. I have to acknowledge that like every other newborn baby I had my first lesson taught to me by the one I have no choices but to refer to as my mother - though she was never a mother to me.
Let me tell you about my mother, about how many people and especially women are disposed to blame everything that might have gone wrong in their lives to their mother, without calculating, that every mother also had a mother to blame.
My mother was a very young mother, who didn«t have more than a few days with my father, and no reason to expect any family life what so ever.
When she gave birth to me, she was more or less a child herself.
She never at all felt responsible for me.
She simply ran away, as soon as possible.
She probably didn«t have any second thoughts.
She left me with her father, who lived in the countryside in a beautiful environment right in the middle of a wonderful forest.
I have always imagined my young and beautiful mother, running out of my grandfatherÕs house and into the forest, just after she found out, that she was pregnant.
My American G.I. father had been gone for good a few weeks earlier, he had returned to the states, without ever learning about my existence.
So my sweet teenage mummy had tears running down her red apple cheeks, when she all alone ran into her childhood forest, to have some privacy and space. She felt like a deserted bride, feeling as if my father had taken all her dreams and hopes away with him.
Aria "Sposa son disprezzata" from "Ottone in Villa" by Antonio Vivaldi
Jack watches the young and beautiful singer, as she starts to sing the quiet and gentle aria, slowly and calmly crossing the stage without noticing him.
Like in a time window Jack watches her fascinated and, - step by step - comes closer, gazing at every move she makes. Jack finally embraces the singer and holds her fast until the music has ended.
After the music has ended, Jack does not open his embrace, but he holds her more aggressively and then pushes the singer to the floor. She loses her shoes as she tries to push him back, but he manages to lie on her and close his hands on her neck. In sudden horror Jack opens his hands.
After a moment of gazing into her face, Jack stands up and, like waking up from a deep sleep, he returns to his chair and table, where he sits down and refills his glass with water. Meanwhile the singer slowly gets up from the floor. Still in a state of shock she rearranges her dress, takes her high heel shoes into her hands and leaves the stage, without looking into Jack's direction.
After Soprano 1 has left, Jack slowly lifts the glass of water with a shaky hand and empties it in a long gulp. He quickly refills the glass and in a sudden move pours the water into his face. After moment of silence Jack produces a handkerchief and slowly dries his face and collar. Then he looks at the audience and sighs, while a smile appears on his face.
They can really make me lose my mind!
And why is that?
Because they represent everything I care for, good and bad, right and wrong, heaven and hell.
Mother is the first woman and she will follow you wherever you go, no matter if she will be here or there...
She will be missing and interfering at the same time.
You will either wish she was here or she was gone...
And this will never change!
Not with any other woman.
Women are like that,
Too much and
And the only reason to stay alive...
And all there is worth living for...
Jack steps up to the audience, looks at the women and chooses one attractive lady in her late forties. He walks to her and stops in front of her.
Can I ask you a very personal question?
How long ago did you enjoy making love?
Ten years ago?
Is that a too personal question?
Jack looks at the woman and his seductive and charming smile, makes her feel uneasy and attracted at the same time. He produces another deep look into the womanÕs eyes, takes her hand, kisses it and leaves her, wandering on through the auditorium.
Forgive me, but I have the impression, that many of you live a life without making love at all.
I spent nearly fifteen years in prison, which means without women, but as I learned later, there are a lot of people living outside a prison deprived from any sexual freedom. They spend their lives beside a partner they do not desire at all.
Why is that?
He smiles and loves the attention he is receiving.
Did you ever wonder, why our species produced such brilliant ideas about how to develop civilizations and run empires, but did not originate a single strategy besides force by religions, societies or economical reasons, how men and women are supposed to live together and still have the freedom of choosing their own sex life?
Jack focuses a very attractive lady, he now directly addresses lowering his voice to a seductive whisper.
Those who take the liberty to do so better are highly privileged by money and power, or aware to be expelled by the establishment right away.
He nearly kisses the beautiful woman before he, all over sudden, leaves her.
For normal people to live is always either or, you can«t have the cake and eat it...
So most of the people decide not to eat it.
If that was the case, it might not be such big thing...
It might be a reasonable sacrifice, because the rest of your life is much easier once you have sacrificed the joy of sex...
But if you run through your deepest memories and desires, a lot of them will be connected with your most sensual adventures. I have experienced that a lot of women between seventeen and seventy have a great longing for love and desire. I don«t know why, but they have often loved to share this longing with me.
And I must confess, that after such a loveless life, I was tempted to take advantage on them.
Whenever I had a problem, there was a woman, to take care of it.
When I was released from prison, there was a woman who paid my flat and my car, a second one, who called me two times a day, to make sure I don«t miss any relevant news from Vienna`s art-society highlife scene, a third one, who wanted to live with me and earned me some money by working as a bar tender, while quite a few others simply wanted to fuck a murderer.
The orchestra plays
Prelude from "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
All of them were lonely and desolate, even if they didn«t know it.
My experience exemplified that listening to women was the greatest present a stranded and broke existence like me had to offer.
Soprano 2 enters with the score in her hand concentrated and selfaware like a diva in a regular concert.
Gentlemen, I can only advise you to follow my example in this special matter, but listen to this woman and you will immediately be rewarded.
Jack is facing the Soprano and supplying her with applause. The orchestra plays the first notes and the singer starts to sing.
While she is singing, Jack listens touched and concentrated. He follows her interpretation, as if he could understand every word of her baroque Italian lyrics, he is so deeply touched, that he seems have tears in his eyes.
She discovers him in the audience. More and more fascinated she gets distracted and drops her notes at the desk. Jack enters the stage and gives her the notes back, wanting her to go on singing for the audience. Then all over a sudden he runs off the stage, only to return a few moments later, with a wonderful bouquet of flowers, that he hands to the contented Soprano. After she has thrown that bouqet at the floor he leaves the stage again to return with a Sacher Torte.
Piling the Sacher Torte, the loose flowers and the notes in her arms, Jack claps his hands and applauds along with the audience. Then leads the singer off the stage and returns to his chair, where he sits down and smiles at the spectators. He seems to be in a very good mood.
(One flower falls down on the floor for a later action!)
You see, gentleman, you simply have to listen to women to make them happy!
It`s always amazing to see, how much emotional material they are able to produce...
I have always been fascinated, how easy it was to make woman talk about their deepest secrets. And how they love to talk to a writer, a poet, a man of words...
As if I had been chosen to frame their monologues and print them in golden letters, they kept opening their hearts to me.
When I was a convict sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, I started writing not to get crazy. It was the only possible occupation for me, and I took any available activity.
And once I started sending out my manuscripts to different magazines and publishers, I soon got in contact with people - and most of them were female-, who seemed to have been searching for me.
I proved to be the perfect example of a worthy soul, fallen and found guilty by a law, which did not at all take in concern my miserable fate. It didn«t take me long to understand, that, what I held in my hand, was a ticket for a long distance flight to freedom. I continued, being the object for case-studies they wanted me to be and in the meantime improved as a writer.
Soon there were more and more people getting interested in my story.
I was writing letters and receiving visitors, until people were signing petitions and publishing articles and radio programmes about me.
This changed my situation inside prison and helped me to climb the social leader to certain privileges and finally led to my pardon and release.
You see, everything had worked out so perfectly. The president of the republic finally pardoned me. There was a new and promising life waiting for me, after one and a half decades of hell.
Since I had made contact with several women, who were working for radio stations and magazines, I soon got my chance to work as a journalist.
Nothing unusual for a well-known writer!
Here I go, writing novels, drama, directing my own plays and working for distinguished magazines and state-founded radio stations.
In the meantime I am residing in a beautiful flat in a quite prestigious quarter of Vienna, with my new young and attractive girlfriend, who adores me, while there is a movie based on my novel in production.
And there is a murdered hooker lying naked, face in the mud, somewhere in the Vienna woods, strangled with her own bra.
The Orchestra plays
"Ballo grazioso" from "Orfeo" by Christoph Willibald Gluck
When the newspapers start reporting the murder,
there is no one at all connecting the thing to me.
Why should they? For the first time in my life I have a home,
a social life, and I have respect and success.
Suspicion into my direction wouldnÕt make any sense at all.
But being Jack Unterweger,
a convicted woman«s murderer,
pardoned just a few month ago,
I know exactly that sooner or later
they will come to hunt me down.
So I myself decide to be active.
I decide to writing articles about Vienna«s "Red Light District".
I talk to police officials before they talk to me.
After all I am a journalist.
After all I am a poet.
The Sopranos enter on both sides of the stage and slowly walk in the front with the pace of the beautiful music.
If we imagine, that I am the killer, what could possibly be more intriguing, than to gain all the information about the state of police investigations concerning the murders I have committed. Soon I am producing radio interviews with anxious hookers, asking them about the murderer out there, waiting to strike again.
Soon I am talking to policemen and detectives and they are informing me about their strategies, approaches and policies.
Can you imagine the strange feeling of supremacy, of omnipotence, of getting away with anything. I have something like a permission to kill women, without being caught. If I want to, I can just pick up a girl on the next corner...
Jack goes to Soprano2, produces a transparent bra out of his pocket and in a strangely intimate movement he fits the underwear on top the singer«s breasts and dress, which she does not dare to hinder. Then he comes behind Soprano1 and also draws a brassier over her breasts. In a fast movement he lifts the bra and strangles her - the music starts to play
"Ah Perfido" Scena ed Aria by Ludwig van Beethoven
The orchestra starts to play and Jack pushes the singer (Soprano1) to the side, trying to strangle her, while the other of the singers (Soprano2) is singing and interfering to stop him. Jack slowly moves around the singer with an enigmatic grin in his face and lifts his hand to stop the soprano and signaling the other singer (Soprano1) to continue the singing. The singer seems surprised and needs a moment until she finds the right line and sings on.
Then he returns his attention to Soprano2 and forces her to his chair, where he rudely pushes her into the seat. Jack sits down on the table, takes one of the books and quietly reads some of the lines. Jack seems calm and concentrated, as if he had forgotten the existence of the humiliated women in the chair behind himself. Then he turns around to her and again addresses the audience.
Since I died, I keep on asking myself, what would I do or not do, if I had another life. And strangely enough, the first thought coming to my mind does not even touch my crimes. Of course I should have my earliest wrongdoings undone and never become a delinquent teenager, but on the other hand, it wouldn«t be me, if I went down and changed my whole life. You would be talking to a totally different person.
Very likely you would not even be here, if it wasn«t for the killer?
What else could I have done to become a person of any public interest?
And after all, who would I be without my story.
He strongly shakes his head, as if somebody else had asked him to rewrite his biography.
No! Forget it!
I don«t want to be someone else.
And for the murder, I have to admit, I had been in jail before, but being a first-degree murder, for the first time of my life, I suddenly received a certain kind of respect. After a whole life in children«s homes, of changing foster parents and reformatories, I had been imprisoned on a quite regular base.
Homicide upgraded me to first class and turned me into a person at least.
How could I ever want to reverse that?
How could I regret that?
I will not regret...
I want to be someone...
I«d rather be a killer than a no one...
While he is speaking calmly, Jack slowly seizes the woman«s bra, straps and ties the elastic bands of the bra around the shocked woman«s neck, where he is knotting a noose. Without changing the tone of his speech, Jack pulls the bands with all his strength around the woman«s neck. Choking and coughing she tries to get her hands inside the elastic band, but without success. Since Jack is using all his weight, the two of them fall to the floor, where Jack is trying not let his struggle show.
There are other possibilities...
If I could change just one thing in my miscarried life and make it undone, I would never again lie to the only person I love...
It still breaks my heart that I was untrue to the woman, who would have done anything for me. If you want to hear my advice, it would be the following:
Be faithful and honest to the one you love!
If for no better reason, at least because sooner or later she will find out anyway!
Jack pulls the elastic band as strong as possible, until the woman finishes her resistance and in the next moment lies motionless and still on the floor, her head on Jacks lap, like Jesus and Mary in Michelangelo`s Pieta.
My girl would have loved me.
Even if I had killed thirteen women...
My girl would have loved me as long as I had faithfully worshipped her.
If I could make it undone, I would not lie to her again.
She was hurt so badly, when she learned that I had been lying to her...
I felt right away, that she was never going to forgive me...
Even if she had wanted to...
She wouldn«t have been able to do so...
I never saw her again.
The last days of my life I constantly imagined her coming to the court and visiting me, although I knew she wouldn`t.
And I knew, it was only my fault!
If I had not lied to her, she would have stayed with me until the end.
In a desperate mood John walks offstage.The dead Soprano opens her eyes, and seeing Jack leaving she becomes Bianca and sings
"Scena di Berenice" by Joseph Haydn
During the Adagio Jack walks over the stage with his hands and feet tied together.
While she receives her applause, the soprano lays down at the floor: she is dead again. Jack enters with a laptop under his arm, takes his chair and sits down behind the desk.
The old question...
Did I kill a woman, or did I even kill twelve women? Or more?
Am I a killer, murderer, assassin, slayer, strangler,
And if 90...
Do I know it myself?
Does Jekyll know about Hyde?
Well... are you really expecting an answer to these questions?
Buy my book!
He takes a copy of his book into his hands.
As a matter of fact this well organized evening -
Please don`t you quote me on the quality of our organization, which seemed to be unable to solve literally anything before the very last minute...
I don«t know if I am supposed to say things like that, but I have to express my deep frustration about how things are handled here...
Well however... I shouldn«t say that.
My publishers will kill me for being so unprofessional.
Which fits perfectly into the image they already gave me...
The complicated, crazy author...
Jack takes a copy of his book and places it at the head end of the dead Soprano.
JACK: They don«t even care if I killed a hundred of women or more, a long as I sell this book. Which brings me back to what I was supposed to say...
He sits down behind the head of the dead women, turns her head to the public and syncronices his speech with her mouth like a puppetplayer, speaking like aÊventriloquist.
This evening is the first of a nationwide tour, promoting this wonderful book and my publisher wants you all to buy at least three copies each... Excuse me...
Jack lays down behind the Soprano.
Sorry. But it is quite tough to go down to the market and sell your life.
Even when you have made your decisions, there are moments, when your heart does not want to follow your mind.
And my heart has always been quite opposing to my mind.
Please Mr. Conductor, play something and give me a fucking break.
Scena ed Aria from "Hélène": "Ah, se Edmondo fosse l'uccisor!" by Carl Maria von Weber
While the orchestra starts to play and the singer (Soprano1) enters the stage and sings, Jack stares at the dead woman without moving at all. Like a statue, he remains still for a minute or two, until there are tears rung down his cheeks.
Jack wipes away his tears and then kneels down beside the dead woman, until he starts covering the dead woman«s body with his books. Quietly and devotionally he puts a paperback on her chest, on her face, between her breasts and all over her body, until there are no more copies left, except the last one, lying on the table.
As soon as all books are dispersed, Jack slowly sits down on his chair, gazing into the distance. After the Aria has finished, the soprano receives her applause and leaves the stage, but Jack does not seem to notice. Sitting on his desk, he is still starring nowhere.
With an impulsive movement he gets up and faces the public.
That's the power of genuine art. It touches you deep inside yourself and reaches regions of your soul that you did not even dream of calling your own.
Are you touched by the title of my book, called - "The Infernal Comedy"?
If not, the title was yet another suggestion by my editor... but if you didn«t like the title, why did you come?
Jack looks at his book.
I know why.
You all came, because you want to know the truth...
And you want it from meÉ And I have promised to tell you...
The truth and nothing but the truth...
But how could I?
You want to know, if I killed that women? Or twelve others?
You want to know the truth? Why don«t you look at the internet?
Jack opens the laptop computer.
This is where the truth comes from... Have a look at Wikipedia...
Here we go:
"Law enforcement later found that Unterweger killed six prostitutes in Austria in the first year after his release. In 1991, Unterweger was hired by an Austrian magazine to write about crime in Los Angeles, California. Unterweger met with local police, even going so far as to accompany the police on their patrols of the city`s red light districts. During Unterweger«s time in Los Angeles, three prostitutes Ñ Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Sherri Ann Long - were beaten, sexually assaulted with tree branches, and strangled with their own brassieres."
Jack looks at the audience.
Is that the truth?
Si non vero, ben trovato!, the Italians would say.
If it«s not true, it«s made up pretty well!
Do you want to hear more?
"In Austria, Unterweger was suggested as a suspect for the prostitute murders. In the absence of other suspects, the police took a serious look at Unterweger and kept him under surveillance. Law enforcement eventually had enough evidence for his arrest, but Unterweger was gone by the time they entered his home. After law enforcement chased him through Europe, Canada and the U.S., he was finally arrested by the FBI in Miami, Florida, on February 27, 1992. While a fugitive, he had called the Austrian media to try to convince them of his innocence."
Jack looks up.
Sounds quite reliable but let me read you the beginning of the Wikipedia- article:
"Born to a Viennese prostitute and an unknown American soldier, Unterweger grew up in poverty with his abusive, alcoholic grandfather in a one-room cabin."
Just two lines and three lies:
My mother was not Viennese, had never been a prostitute, although I invented this early in my career, because it seemed helpful, and though my grandfather liked to drink, I had my own bedroom in his house...
Jack smiles charmingly.
You see, half of the facts still published in books and articles are still quoting my fiction or my self-invented biography. And you ask me for the truth...
Let me read you the end of this article first:
"Back in Austria, Unterweger was charged with 11homicides, one of which occurred in Prague, Czech Republic, during the time he was visiting and was identical to the murders of the other prostitutes. The jury found him guilty of nine murders by a 6:2 majority (sufficient for a conviction under Austrian law at the time). On June 29, 1994 Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. That night, he took his own life by hanging himself with a rope made from shoelaces and a cord from the trousers of a track suit. He is reported to have used an intricate knot identical to that used on the murdered prostitutes. Because he died before he could appeal the verdict, under a technicality of Austrian law, despite the original guilty verdict, Unterweger is officially to be considered as innocent."
The "dead woman" starts to move and slowly rises, while the copies of the "Infernal Comedy" are falling on the floor.
Jack closes his laptop and stands up.
Do you finally see, why I cannot tell you the truth?
With my elegant suicide, I remained not guilty,
although the verdict had been against me.
Therefore I will not sell you a single copy of my true confession.
I know, that I have been a great disappointment to all of you and most of all to myself. I am longing for the truth as much as you are and I couldn`t find anything more desirable than honesty, but it has not been given to me. I cannot produce any true word. I am a failure... and so is my book.
He stands up and clears the table, with his laptop and the reading lamp under his arm he slowly exits.
The orchestera starts to play
Recitativo, Aria e Cavatina "Ah, lo previdi" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
The light fades and Soprano2 appears in the back of the stage. She sits down at his desk and later at the stairs that lead to the audience.
After a while Jack re-enters the stage holding a noose and a long rope in his hands. He affixes the rope at his table chair and tightens it between the legs of the chairs of the concertmaster and a second violinist. He puts the string around his neck and after having tested the tension he lies down on the table. As well consoling as provoking his leap Soprano2 lies down on the table behind him. With the end of the aria Jack abruptly sits up while the Soprano slowly walks offstage.
Getting ready to strangle himself with a jump off the table Jack is sitting at the edge of the table.
After a long moment of highest tension Jack opens his eyes as if waking up from a bad dream.
What the fuck is going on here?
Do you rally think I will kill myself in this theatre?
While you are sitting in your chairs and watch?
I already killed myself once, and I can tell you this is no experience I want to repeat. Trust me on that one.
If you want to, you can come back tomorrow night and see if I changed my mind.
But for tonight I have had enough!