Theater Review: “Spank!: The Fifty Shades Parody” Packs Too Broad a Wallop
Fifty Shades of Grey‘s infamous “red room of pain,” where Christian Grey keeps his S&M tools neat and clean, is never displayed, while none of the novel’s dominant-submissive sexual fetishes are exploited for sly laughs.
SPANK!: The Fifty Shades Parody. Written and directed by Jim Millan. Touring around New England and the rest of the country through October 26.
By Aneesha Joshi
SPANK! can best be described as a strained caricature of the mega bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, wobbling somewhere between amusing parody and stilted overkill. The members of the audience familiar with the steamy pages in E. L. James’s book are in the best position to enjoy the goofy modifications made to its characters and situations. Those who are not familiar with the Fifty Shades phenomenon may not be as forgiving, having to endure the show’s dead spots, crude humor, and inside jokes.
The evening opens with an address to the audience delivered by Amanda Barker, who plays EBJ, the author of the book (she insists the initial stands for “Easy Breezy Janet” and not anything else). EBJ tells us how she created the story; soon the characters on stage talk back, stopping the action and expressing their own sharp opinions about E. B. Janet’s storyline. The first character to speak up is Tasha Woode (played by Michelle Vezilj), who is besotted with the God-like Hugh Hansen (more commonly identified as Christian Grey in the novel series). Tasha’s voice remains at a helium high pitch throughout the show, which after nearly two hours becomes very hard to take. The character’s gullible nature and ditzy voice is meant to lampoon Ana Steele in the novel, showing how inanely easy it is for her to be manipulated by a handsome and debonair billionaire—but after about an hour, the gimmick lost its charm.
Then the show takes a diversion for some reason, not doing all that much with the unrealistic antics of Christian Grey and Ana Steele. Instead, it touches on the controversy sparked by speculation that the Fifty Shades of Grey series violated copyright laws by drawing on fan fiction, similar to the charges leveled at the Twilight saga by Stephanie Meyer. Hugh Hansen (played by Drew Moerlein) tells Woode that he needs to divulge a secret: the audience eagerly awaits his confession of loving sadism and masochism, but he unexpectedly tells her that he is a vampire. The show goes on to lampoon the Twilight series for a few minutes. You would think there was enough in Fifty Shades of Grey to make fun of without bringing in other popular fare.
The majority of the audience were women in their 30s and 40s who sipped sweet cocktails and hooted and howled at Hansen’s Batman-inspried strip tease and E .B. Janet’s contortions into vulgar positions while imitating intercourse dressed as a Mexican man. Alas, the infamous “red room of pain,” where Christian Grey keeps his S&M tools neat and clean, is never displayed, while none of the novel’s dominant-submissive sexual fetishes are exploited for sly laughs. The show’s humor was quite sexual, but mostly in the mode of the crass and the classless, as when Woode stepped into the audience to ask such questions as “Can I make my boyfriend love me if I let him put things in my butt?”
SPANK! supplies doses of outrageous and entertaining humor, but the “anything for a laugh” approach becomes tiresome because the show doesn’t really satirize the Fifty Shades series (and the reasons behind its popularity) but trivializes it through repetitive slapstick and silly one-liners. So, if you are in the mood for a lighthearted laugh, a girls’ night out, a raunchy escape for two hours, SPANK! is a possibility. Those who like their send-ups of popular entertainment to be modulated and make a point are forewarned.
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