There’s a fine line between a spoof and a parody. The former evokes the source material being lampooned but gives it a new take, like Al Yankovich songs. But a parody, while it can contain elements of spoof, often makes its point merely by turning a microscope on what makes up the source material — say, the way The Naked Gun movies make fun of the entire cop melodrama precisely by recreating their tone and seriousness with consummate sincerity. It’s sort of like what Nietzsche said: If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back into you. You don’t need to try to satirize some things — they might just be waiting for you to have noticed they were silly all along.
It was pretty savvy, then, of playwright Jamie Morris to have discovered that such a lauded (if genre-specific) film like The Silence of the Lambs was ripe for parody, but there it is, in Uptown Players’ drag comedy The Silence of the Clams, staring right into you. Whodathunkit?
Morris still invokes spoof to make his points, from funny riffs on the characters’ names (Clarice Startling, who’s easily frightened; Hannibal Lichter, who enjoys cunnilingus) to the cheesy title to the very act of having our heroine played by a man in drag (Austin Tindle). But where the genuine parody bleeds through is in realizing that you can still keep much of the original movie dialogue intact and the jokes almost write themselves. (In the movie, Buffalo Bob sought to skin women to make them into a human “coat;” here, Beaver Bob skins the FUPA — the “fatty upper pussy area,” a phrase that will haunt my dreams for a decade — to make designer merkins.) It’s The Carol Burnett Show with a potty mouth.
The downside is that Morris hasn’t really rewritten it enough, at least at times: The ending is still the movie’s ending, which is disturbing but not funny, and many of the jokes almost demand a rim-shot (lots about Jodie Foster being lesbian). But Tindle, Mathew Butler in a surprisingly accurate reinterpretation of “Lector” and Mikey Abrams as everyone else in the story know how to “commit to the bit” — that is, throw themselves head-first into parody mindset. Not playing for laughs may be the most humorous way to get them ever devised. Bravo, Clarice. Now fly, fly, fly!
The Rose Room at Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Through May 20. UptownPlayers.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.