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'Silence! The Musical' review: It's gross, all right

Martin Knapp as Hannibal Lecter and Mary Ann

Martin Knapp as Hannibal Lecter and Mary Ann Cafiero as Clarice Starling star in "Silence! The Musical" with a chorus of "lambs" at South Shore Theatre Experience in Lindenhurst. Photo Credit: South Shore Theatre Experience

As a rule, critics shouldn't give away the evening's best one-liner. But "Silence! The Musical" breaks so many rules of decorum, it feels right to violate one more. First, the funniest line in the Long Island premiere of the musical parody of the 1991 Oscar-winning film "Silence of the Lambs" will not likely be repeated, since it refers to the opening-night reception at South Shore Theatre Experience. Second, it's one of the few jokes we can print.

After the cast takes its final bow, Martin Knapp, who plays a surprisingly affable Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal the Cannibal, in case you've forgotten his modus operandi), re-emerges to invite the audience "to stick around for a bite." (Pastries, mostly, and was that red wine Chianti?)

Therein lies one limitation to the appeal of this cult favorite (outstanding musical, 2005 New York Fringe Festival): Only fanatics who recall each grisly twist from a movie that premiered nearly 25 years ago will get most of its humor. Another is that "Silence!" is gross. Funny, if you're not easily offended, but there are words sung and actions depicted that you don't often hear or see -- even on late-night HBO. Some are familiar to those who read Thomas Harris' novel, but the movie only alludes to them. There's no such filter to "Silence!" -- music and lyrics by Jon and Al Kaplan, book by Hunter Bell, better known for "[title of show]." (No one younger than 17 is admitted without a parent.)

As directed by Deborah Cascio Plezia, "Silence!" is a bare-bones production. Costumes consist chiefly of floppy ears. ("Lambs," all dressed accordingly, are black sheep.)

Mary Ann Cafiero as Clarice Starling gets laughs by overdoing the FBI trainee's lisp. She makes it a running joke by addressing her FBI mentor as "shir" and pleasantly vocalizing anxiety over her first Lecter encounter ("Thish Ish It"). Knapp deadpans his unprintable ballad to Clarice's scent, while Ken Dobbins' Buffalo Bill, the maniac who skins his size-14-and-up victims, is more obscene than any dirty lyric. Dan Hayes as Agent Crawford and Clarice's late father makes the most of his "Papa" number ("It's lonely being dead"), and Victoria Kay, doubling as Bill's kidnap victim and her U.S. senator mom, helps bring the dreadful circumstances to a merciful conclusion.

South Shore deserves credit for taking risks. But "Silence!" doesn't beat the odds.

WHEN | WHERE Friday and Saturday nights at 8, Sunday at 7 p.m. through Oct. 25, South Shore Theatre Experience, 315 W. Montauk Hwy., Lindenhurst

TICKETS $15; 631-669-0506, southshoretheatre.com

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