What Do You Do When Your Play Uses the C-Word a Lot?

Staging SILENCE! The Musical, an unauthorized spoof of The Silence of the Lambs, poses some curious theatrical questions.

Asterisks are the pasties of grammar, applicable in all situations where quoting offensive language is required. But when Cloud 9 Theatricals and Ray of Light Theatre decided to mount SILENCE! The Musical — an unauthorized parody of The Silence of the Lambs that contains a song called “If I Could Smell Her C*nt” — director Jason Hoover and his producers decided to go one step farther.

“We’re not listing the musical numbers in the program,” he says. “It pops a crowd so much when [Hannibal] Lecter sings that, or ‘put the fucking lotion in the basket.’ I believe they might have done that in the off-Broadway production.”

In other words, they opted against including the c-word, not because they’re censorious, but because it keeps the tension crackling. This was just one of the challenges the 90-minute production — which Hoover says is like “if Beach Blanket Babylon got really drunk and really dirty” — posed in the short rehearsal period ahead of its Jan. 26 opening at the Victoria Theatre.

“I had to get really comfortable with the c-word,” he adds. “It’s not something that’s in my vocabulary Having to give notes on it, talking out loud, is something I’ve been working myself up to.”

Scott Hayes, who plays the cannibalistic serial-killer-turned-FBI-asset, was so uncomfortable that he assured his co-star, Ann Norland (who plays Agent Clarice Starling), that he would only utter it while in character.

“When I finished the script, I thought, ‘Thank God that my parents are dead,’ ” he says.

As a madcap musical spoof of Jonathan Demme’s over-the-top Oscar-winning 1991 thriller that’s based in turn on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, there’s a lot of material to play with. But Hoover and Hayes, having each watched the film a number of times while preparing, agree that their mother text — the musical — is faithful to the film.

“Some of the lines in the musical are absolutely verbatim,” Hayes says.

Hoover pledges allegiance to SILENCE! because “the people who wrote it are much smarter and much funnier than I am, so I will be following their lead,” but permits the actors a certain amount of room to ad-lib when playing the nine characters. It’s in the vein of Second City improv, so a fluid structure is paramount.

“In the notes, it’s written in there that the characters are allowed to go off the rails for a little bit,” he says.

The fact that the film contains about two minutes of gore and a much higher degree of tension is fertile ground for parody — but that’s not to say the novels are above reproach when tamping down the ridiculousness quotient. Hoover notes that the sequel, Hannibal, ends with Lecter and Starling becoming lovers, which film audiences probably wouldn’t stand for.

Additionally, 26 years after its release, reinscribing the film’s decidedly transphobic representation of Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb — best known for uttering, “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me,” into a mirror while putting on jewelry, and of course, “It puts the lotion in the basket or else it gets the hose again” — is something San Francisco audiences wouldn’t stand for, either. But SILENCE! doesn’t go that route.

“They’re not making fun of what he’s into, they’re making fun of the character and the way it was originally portrayed,” Hayes says.

As befits a musical based on a movie that’s based on a book, and which was written by a team that also produced “tongue-very-firmly-in-cheek” spoofs of The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian, SILENCE! has produced a spinoff of its own, involving Lego.

“Stop-motion Lego,” Hoover says. “It’s pretty intense. It’s great. I love it so much.”

In other words, something about fava beans and a nice Chianti seems to inspire labors of love.

“The whole thing is such an homage to the movie,” Hayes says. “It’s bonkers. It’s just off the wall.”

SILENCE! The MusicalJan. 26 – Feb. 25, at the Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th St. $35-$55; silencethemusical.com

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