Why, dear God? This production of Silence! The Musicalis a waste of talent.
The musical is a parody of the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. Quick reminder: in that movie, FBI trainee Clarice Starling is assigned to interview cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter on the theory that he might provide insight about another psychotic killer. Buffalo Bill murders fat women and skins them. As the story progresses, we find out that BB has been denied gender confirmation surgery and that he’s skinning women so that he can stitch the pieces together and make himself a “woman suit”. (I’m using male pronouns because the movie situates Bill as male.)
There are those who argue that Silence of the Lambsis not transphobic and others who argue more persuasively that it is. There are escape clauses built into the screenplay — Buffalo Bill isn’t really trans; he just thinkshe is — but horror movies often run on fears associated with embodiment and it seems clear to me that Silence of the Lambsis propelled by the rocket fuel of anxiety about trans “violation” of physical integrity. Buffalo Bill’s murders are the Grand-Guignol version of gender confirmation surgery.
Rather than satirizing these fears, Silence! The Musical sensationalizes and mocks Buffalo Bill’s gender “freakishness”: we see Bill naked at one point with his male genitalia tucked between his legs. Weird! Outrageous! Hilarious! Much “fun” is had with a male FBI agent’s effeminacy.
And then there’s the fatphobia — like in the song, “Are You About a Size 14?” Silence! The Musical doesn’t question any of the movie’s reactionary aspects; it just exaggerates and exploits them so, you know, fuck that.
Because the style that the material demands is so cartoonishly large, there’s no tension in the storytelling. The 90 minutes that this show takes to unravel are narratively dull — and that’s a shame because there are all sorts of things in director Mark Carter’s production that are very well executed.
Seth Gordon Little’s performance as Hannibal Lecter is fiendishly intuitive. Little is in such a groove that his timing is excellent and he’s weirdly charismatic. He can also sing like a (demented) angel. Stephanie Liatopoulos, who’s playing Clarice Starling, has a strong alto and, as an actor, she hits just the right deadpan tone for parody. Stefanie Davis shows off a rich soprano and a crazy range as Catherine, the potential victim whom Bill is keeping in a well in his basement. Overall, there’s a real depth of talent in the eight-member cast.
Choreographer Ken Overbey gets some great licks in, including a parody of Bob Fosse’s choreography in “It’s Agent Shtarling”. The many cues in Darren W. Hales’s lighting design are tight and often witty, with sudden pin spots illuminating faces as if they’re in close-ups for instance. And the chorus of singing lambs is well-costumed by Julie White, who gives them adorable little hooves and white, folded ears attached to bowler hats.
But what’s the point? Why lavish all of this talent on such a mindless project? It’s not just innocent fun
SILENCE! THE MUSICAL Music and lyrics by Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan. Book by Hunter Bell. Adapted from the screenplay Silence! The Musicalby Jon Kaplan and Al Kaplan. Directed by Mark Carter. Presented by DSR Productions with Neanderthal Arts Festival. At the BMO Theatre Centre on Friday, July 26. Continues until August 3.Tickets.
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