Silent Night of the Lambs
December 5, 2011
The Rogue in Reviews, Ringwald Theatre, holiday'11

With a never-ending preponderance of comfort and joy this time of year, there’s always an underrepresented legion of the overwhelmed and over it. It’s to this population that Who Wants Cake? reaches out this holiday season with its hybrid Christmas suspense tale, Silent Night of the Lambs (by Ryan Landry). In essence a powerhouse thriller relocated to the North Pole, this Joe Plambeck–directed comedy delivers both greedily anticipated and unexpected notes of campy ho-ho-horror.

The story of The Silence of the Lambs is well preserved in this adaptation. In this world, the North Pole is policed by a fierce reindeer CIA, in which legacy Clarice Starling (Melissa Beckwith) is a green but promising up and comer. When a series of horrific murders breaks out, pushy Lt. Blitzen (Anne Faba) recruits Clarice to interview a disgraced and incarcerated Santa Claus (Dave Davies), in an effort to work every angle of the case. Concurrent stories push the action forward: even as vulnerable Clarice and demented Santa’s dangerously fruitful partnership points the good guys closer to the culprit, the monstrous, transformational killer has acquired the daughter of a hugely famous and influential name in holiday shopping, and the young woman’s life hangs in the balance.

Beyond its eminently funny concept, the show is most successful when it surpasses the one-to-one facsimile and digs for jokes and scenarios that work uniquely well in this imaginative context. Flashback scenes regarding Clarice’s home life are particularly fruitful, and Cara Trautman’s skewed, clipped approach to the safe return of her character's abducted daughter is an abundantly humorous departure. Most of the cast shifts into ensemble roles as needed, and the potential of the smaller, forgettable characters is exemplified in an especially gymnastic interaction between Pete Podolski and Chris Berryman. Katie Orwig’s set design plugs the direness of Santa’s cell into an all-purpose Christmas backdrop, and the combination of Landry’s score-borrowing sound design and exceptionally clever projections and video (by Plambeck and assistant director Dyan Bailey) lend proficient work-arounds to the limitations of a stage presentation. There’s much potential in the junction of these two worlds, and the production effectively revels in its tangents and departures from the source material.

However, not every moment can deviate, or the show couldn’t hold together as a send-up. And ultimately, this is the double-edged sword of this production: a wealth of quotable dialogue and iconic visuals is a great jumping-off point, but the obligation to deliver each famous beat short-changes the surprise factor. Much of the setup and dialogue is subject to disappointingly few changes, giving large sections of the show the feel of a campy Silence of the Lambs replica in a Santa hat. This is particularly true in relation to the two leads, who admirably endeavor to make new discoveries within well-established material. Beckwith uses her pure West Virginia affectation to deliver a straight-man protagonist with total severity, channeling Clarice’s understated, businesslike veneer and subtly turning up the character’s manic, disturbed underbelly. With little hope of fully transcending one of the most identifiable, reviled villains in film history, Davies’s physical and vocal specificities are well served by a creeping sense of above-the-law petulance that efficiently bridges Kringle to Lecter. However, of the more literal characterizations, none is so successful as Jona’s, playing her piteous captive to the letter, yet also generating biting, screeching hilarity within a threatening scenario.

Brazenly subversive, with a firm grip on its referential foundation, Silent Night of the Lambs has great, demented holiday fun with its unexpected inspiration, generating an outlandish blend of halfway-suspenseful and fully mocking tones as well as throwing in a handful of complete surprises. Admittedly, this Silence superfan couldn’t shake a persistent seen-it feeling; on the other side of the coin, this is probably not the ideal entry point for the uninitiated. Even so, clued-in viewers ready to drape themselves in seasonal irreverence and dance around in their own grotesque one-man floor show can happily get their fill of Christmas sneer in this mash-up comedy.

Silent Night of the Lambs is no longer playing.
For the latest from the Ringwald Theatre (formerly Who Wants Cake?), click here.

Article originally appeared on The Rogue Critic (
See website for complete article licensing information.