No Ifs, Ands or Butt Plugs: The Candid B & D Action is Mostly Hinted at in the Often-Amusing Spank!


Through August 18 at the Hanna Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 2067 E. 14th Street,


When exactly does a formerly furtive sexual kink go mainstream? Well, in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, it's when the prisoners at Guantanamo request that book more than any other, as was reported recently.

Yes, masterful dudes and their female slaves are getting their freak on. And it's now being parodied in a return engagement to Cleveland of Spank! at the Hanna Theatre. (Note to dominant women and male submissives: Don't pout—your time is, um, coming: Venus in Fur opens Nov. 1 at the Cleveland Play House.)

So I guess we can dispense with all that "treat others as you would like to be treated" crap. Anyone who espouses the Golden Rule these days will likely be silenced with a studded ball gag, rammed with a butt plug and spread-eagled on a dungeon wall until they repent.

This modern flurry of D&S shenanigans is mostly due to E.L. James, the middle-aged British woman who penned Fifty Shades to vent her mid-life crisis fantasies. That has resulted in the publishing phenomenon, with more than 70 million copies of her erotic trilogy sold worldwide.

And that insane popularity makes those books excellent fodder for a profit-making parody, a ka-ching thought that no doubt occurred to head writer Jim Millan and the six other authors of this sweaty little exercise. You may think that seven playwrights is at least five or six more than the average play requires, and of course you'd be right.

But Spank! isn't so much a play as it is an excuse for the audience to giggle when E.B Janet, the fictionalized writer of the tome, writhes and vibrates as she taps out her steamy scenes.

These are performed out by the two principals, domineering young billionaire Hugh Hanson and the 20-something Tasha Woode who is so naïve she is still a virgin, doesn't have a computer, and has no idea how many objects can be forcibly inserted into a person's rectum.

The latter is only discussed, not demonstrated. And that is the rule for most of the sexy happenings here, as they are mostly hinted at. In that way, the show is sly and clever, directed by Millan with just enough wry nudges to convey the kinks without turning the whole enterprise into a perverted sweat lodge.

The cast, which will change during this short run, is uniformly professional and amusing. Suzanne Sole trembles and twitches as author Janet, like she's attached to a live wire, when she's thinking about a particularly juicy moment.

Graydon Long is tall, slim and emanating testosterone from every pore as Hugh. Whether he's shopping for cable ties and duct tape or showing Tasha his motorized dildo machine, Long's Hugh is a man in charge.

There's quite a bit of audience participation, and those tasks fall mostly to Danielle Trzcinski, who plays the blank slate that is Tasha. Trzcinski roams the Hanna Theatre audience, picking out various patrons to engage in her discussions about various S&M practices.  Then, their names are woven into the rest of the show, along with plenty of local references (yes, touring shows are apparently still told that mentioning Parma is absolutely hilarious, in any context).

After a very funny first act, the second half of the show seems to meander with a lot of silly sight gags (crotch fanning) and off-the-topic schtick (a Nigerian "prince" and his fractured English emails). At this point, the play no doubt falls victim to its clumsily written source material, a novel fashioned to titillate and not to explore.

For many, this material is not sexy in the least. But if you're the type who enjoys an occasional slap and tickle, or adore being chained by your loved one to spiked board, you may need to bring an extra pair of Hanes when you see Spank! (For the laughter, of course.)

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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