Silence! Is Golden at P.S. 122

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Fans of fava beans and size 14 have just been thrown another bone.

Silence! The Musical, the unauthorized parody of the blockbuster 1991 movie, has just moved on up in the New York theatrical food chain. Following a successful run at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Silence! has recently transferred to an open run at Off-Broadway venue The 9th Space Theatre at P.S. 122.

As many know, The Silence of the Lambs, a Jonathan Demme film adapted by Ted Tally from the Thomas Harris bestseller, made a major dent in the zeitgeist upon its release almost 21 years ago. The plot follows the attempt of FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to track down a serial killer bent on making a dress out of women's flesh. In order to do so, she must go into the belly of the beast, enlisting the counsel of imprisoned cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). The film was a major success and nabbed Oscars for Demme, Foster, Hopkins and Tally.

This is dark stuff, to be sure, but the creative forces behind the scenes of the show have been able to filet the story, spoofing and musicalizing it into an audience-pleasing hit. Its origins date back to 2002, when Jon and Al Kaplan (who have done similar web adaptations of Conan the Barbarian and Predator) created a series of raucous songs inspired by the show. Song titles-some of which are not fit to print here-include "Quid Pro Quo" and "Put the F-king Lotion in the Basket."

They then wrote a screenplay, which Hunter Bell ([title of show]) adapted into a live stage show. Under the aegis of choreographer-director Christopher Gattelli, Silence! first played as part of the 2005 New York Fringe Festival. It also played in London prior to its Off-Broadway bow this year.

"I think in order to parody or adapt any work you have to respect and like the source material," Bell explained. "I love the film. It's an incredible piece of work and story."

Actress Jenn Harris, who views her role as "the ultimate in performing," has played Clarice through all of Silence!'s iterations. The current production of the show does inject some new blood into the role of Hannibal in the form of stage and screen actor David Garrison (TV's Married?with Children, Wicked), who is replacing Brent Barrett. Though Silence! is a parody, it is clear that all parties involved take it seriously and have a deep amount of respect for one another.

"David is quite stunning as Hannibal," Harris effused about her new co-star. "He has his own take and intelligence that makes me really excited." For his part, Garrison complimented his onstage Clarice's "pinball machine of a brain."

She's not alone in viewing Garrison's casting as a coup for Silence! "Hannibal is a tough role to sing and David sounds incredible," Bell said. "In addition, David's a really good actor. He's smart and, like Jenn, he's honoring the essence of the source role but twisting it and turning it on its ear, so it works."

Gattelli also complimented the chemistry between his two leads. "They are a comedic match in heaven, and both are so generous with each other. They know when to set up the pins for the other and when to roll a strike. And because of that, they only make each other better."

The director is also a fan of his show's new venue. "I love that it is intimate," he said of P.S. 122. "It is not a conventional theater, and ours is not a conventional show. Both are a little scrappy but have a lot of character."

And hopefully, more of those involved with the movie will be able to check out the show. Demme and Tak Fujimoto (the movie's Oscar-nominated cinematographer) have seen it, though according to Harris, the actress whose performance gave birth to her role has yet to catch the show-though this open run will give Foster plenty of opportunity.

For more information, visit Photo: Jenn Harris and David Garrison in Silence! The Musical. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

-Doug Strassler

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