Out-of-Control Silliness: SPANK: THE FIFTY SHADES PARODY

Photo credit: Mills Entertainment; naughty, naughty

Photo credit: Mills Entertainment; naughty, naughty


presented by Mills Entertainment

January 12th – May 30th 2013
Wilbur Theatre
Boston, MA
Spank! Facebook Page 

Review by Craig Idlebrook

This review contains discussion of adult themes.

(Boston) On its surface, the parody looks like an easy genre to nail, as it seems much easier to make fun of an existing storyline than create a memorable one. But there are pitfalls in the genre, including the lack of opportunity for character development. Think of the Naked Gun or Airplane! movies; the characters must be blank slates who never realize they are in a strange world. To succeed, the parody must be either short (SNL) or have a unified comedic vision that is funny independent of the original storyline.

Spank!: the Fifty Shades Parody is full of gags that will make any cursory reader of the S&M novel Fifty Shades of Grey spit out her gag with laughter, but it fails to create a complete world of ridiculousness, as the actors never can get on the same page for the comedic feel for the show. In the end, the joke nearly spirals out of control and the show grows tedious.

 The play follows a repressed housewife, E.B. Janet (Amanda Barker), as she takes a drunken weekend to write the erotic adventures of a lopsided love affair between a dominating high-powered businessman, Hugh Hanson (Drew Moerlein), and a submissive and inexperienced 22-year old post-graduate student, Tasha Woode (Michelle Vezij). As the author writes, the action unfolds steamily and explicitly on stage.

 Although the drunken women in the crowd may disagree, the play works best when it focuses less on a parody of raunch and more on breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy, as the romantic leads wrestle with a drunken writer taking shortcuts. Much of the show’s success here has to do with Barker’s talent as an MC; she brings great comedic timing as a referee for the action and for the drunken comments of the audience, and she is utterly casual and fresh in her line-delivery.

Vezij also hits many right notes as the blank slate of a girl who allows herself to fall into an adventurous physical relationship; this is partly because her character is allowed to grow, if ever so slightly, from the most naïve girl in town to someone with a spine. Unfortunately, her scene partner seems utterly uncomfortable on stage, despite being cast as someone in control. Moerlein pushes each line for laughs and refuses to buy into the script; nowhere is this more evident than when he breaks character to deal with hecklers, even once uttering the forbidden word “please”. The audience also deserved a raspberry for being obnoxious; either the theatre’s security needs to be more aggressive or its drink sales need to be less so.

This production just misses the chance to discuss through humor the limits of our quest for something dirty. While sadomasochism is a legitimate expression of sexuality, the fad that is Fifty Shades of Grey seems fueled partly by a need to find anything shocking in a world that doesn’t shock anymore. Torture porn may be our last refuge to titillate, and that raises some difficult questions. As the sleazy Eurotrash pop singer Jarvis Cocker once unsettlingly crooned, “What exactly do you do for an encore? Because this is hardcore.”

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