"My inner goddess is beside herself, hopping from foot to foot. Anticipation hangs heavy over my head like a dark tropical storm cloud. Butterflies flood my belly—as well as a darker, carnal, captivating ache."
Although these symptoms may sound curiously similar to how readers feel as they approach an article in Scene, it is actually a quote from Fifty Shades of Grey, That's the moist and sweaty (and some say atrociously written) best seller that forms the basis for the new musical satire Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody, Jan. 17-27 at the Hanna Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.
But this production is not meant to be a faithful retelling of the soft-core porn tome and its heavily panting sequels. Jim Millan, co-writer and director, explains that, "This is a comic version of the E.L. James book. It all started with me and my friends, who are sketch comedians, sitting in a room and tossing ideas around."
Those ideas were stimulated by the novel's original story of how a naïve college grad, Anastasia, gets tangled up with a young, ripped billionaire stud, Christian Grey. Conveniently setting aside the reality that most billionaires look like Sheldon Adelson, the book's pages sizzle along as Anastasia is introduced to the tantalizing (to many) by-ways of BDSM.
Of course, this "Mommy porn" show comes equipped with a ready-made audience. Women (primarily) have been snatching the titles so quickly, book stores almost have to dedicate one full-time employee to restocking the shelves.
Even though the play is designed to be a light-hearted send-up of the steamy material, Millan does see a more meaningful side to it all. "It celebrates fantasy and those who are willing to embrace it. The idea is: you have one life to live, so live it the way you want."
In any case, most of the audience members are devoted fans of the book. And as Milan notes, "When our leading man (called Hugh Hansom) hits the stage, the
women in the seats scream like it's their own personal rock concert. That has been the most surprising part of the reaction, so far."
In addition to that dominant businessman, there are two other characters on stage: E.B. Janet, an undisguised version of the book's author, and Tasha, the "blank slate virgin" who revels in her own sexy debasement.
While not a full-fledged musical, there are nine songs that are parodies of existing tunes (such as a rewritten version of Stephen Sondheim's "I Know Things Now" from Into the Woods.)
Along the way, Tasha discusses the intricacies of various erotic activities during interchanges with the audience. But there is no nudity, so, when necessary, inanimate objects stand in for body parts.
Millan has solid comedic chops, having been the former director of Kids in the Hall, the sketch comedy TV series that originated in Canada and then came to America.
For those who see a darker side to such 50 Shades fun, such as glorifying the submissiveness of women, there is a possible countering feminist angle to all the bondage and domination.
As the website Jezebel and others have noted, the book and its spinoffs show that women are now free to express their interest in "non-vanilla sex," out in the open and without guilt. That doesn't necessarily mean they also don't want to control their own health care or have a full and equal share of decision-making in government or in their personal relationships.
As Millan concludes, "It's all in fun. And believe me, the audiences are having a great time!" Okay, pass the pink, fur-lined handcuffs. Dinner will be a little late tonight.
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