Psycho Santa

Ryan Landry’s Silent Night of the Lambs
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  December 5, 2006
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Santa Lecter
Ryan Landry takes a holiday hatchet to The Silence of the Lambs in his latest outing for the Gold Dust Orphans, serving up Kris Kringle with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Actually, with “candied yams and a nice spiced eggnog,” but that’s to add holiday flavor to his latest butchery. Who knows what it is about the Christmas season that brings out the most raucous and polymorphously perverse in this most scurrilous orphan leader since Fagin? Maybe Dickens has something to do with it: it’s the need to give the Christmas Carol cottage industry of theatrical December its comeuppance. But Landry and the Orphans are in fine, typically ragged, over-the-top form in Silent Night of the Lambs (at Machine through December 23), a parody of the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme film of Thomas Harris’s thriller that turns Hannibal Lecter into a psycho Santa “who’s been driven to devour more than just a plate of stale cookies” and Clarice Starling into a reindeer detective (daughter of a drunken Rudolph, whose worst childhood memory is borrowed from Walt Disney) on the track of a killer called the Skinner — a villain whose identities, real and mistaken, are among the show’s cleverest twists and whose destruction gives new meaning to the term reductio ad absurdum.

In his 1968 tome The Empty Space, Peter Brook speaks of a Rough Theater: “anti-authoritarian, anti-traditional, anti-pomp, anti-pretense.” The Orphans, operating on three small stages that are almost like mediæval-pageant wagons, fielding their two-dimensional props (including an FBI plane and a Nativity scene complete with obligatory lambs) and ingenious small-scale effects, are about as rough as it gets. In your face with a collective wink, the troupe is not in love with long distance: its audience connection is crackling, hooting, and immediate. And the Orphans revel in vulgarity: you know from the get-go that the line “Santa Claus is coming” is as inevitable as the sleigh on the rooftop Christmas Eve. Neither is subtlety a Landry stocking stuffer. Here, in antlers and a tight uniform, he plays Clarice’s superior, Lieutenant Betty Blixen (“the eyesore of her species”), with enough barking, glowering mugs to serve hot cider to the masses.

On the other hand, Orphans regular Penny Champagne, who plays Clarice with demure determination, is actually a good actor. Afrodite is an authoritative presence. And if Larry Coen is a lewder and (despite the North Pole connections) less chilling gentleman maniac than Anthony Hopkins, he’s also less muzzled, appearing only once, while trussed to a dolly, in the headgear designed to keep those fava beans a vegetarian entrée.

There are some misses; editing is no more in Landry’s lexicon than restraint. But by and large it’s all here: Clarice’s tragic back story; the psychopathic cannibal’s teasing leads, mind games, anagrams, and carnage; the last-minute rescue of a powerful person’s daughter; and, of course, a product that must be rubbed into the skin or else it gets the hose (well, candy cane) again. Landry adds the garish Christmas ornaments. But as Hamlet says, the rest is Silence.
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