‘SPANK!’ is slap-happy humor

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal arts writer

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Girl with tie Alice Moran "SPANK!" a parody of 50 Shades of Grey.

There was a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ coming from the ladies in the audience Friday night at the Hanna Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. You’d think the venue had turned into a strip joint, and it actually had for one scene in the show SPANK! The Fifty Shades Parody.

The spoof of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy reimagines ever-so-smart virgin Anastasia Steele and Mr. Perfect-with-a-VERY-dark-side Christian Grey, now named Tasha Woode and Hugh Hanson, in a wacky sendup of the erotic novels.

I spotted just two guys in the sea of ready-to-party ladies Friday night. That makes sense, since the naughty show is the perfect girls night out for friends who have a special appreciation for the Fifty Shades tomes.

The show is billed as a musical but it shouldn’t be, considering it doesn’t have a lot of music or singing. It is a clever comedy that, for the most part, successfully taps into one of the hottest pop culture phenomenons out there today in “literature.”

The funniest character in the show is E.B. Janet, a frustrated middle-aged wife and mother who has the house to herself for the weekend and decides to pen a sex fantasy. As Janet conjures the innocent character Tasha, at various points in the performance, they debate over the young coed’s “character development.”

The hilarious Suzanne Sol plays Janet, the author of erotica, who gets herself all hot and bothered to laugh-out-loud effect as she pens her ridiculously smutty passages.

Alice Moran creates a vacant naivete as Tasha, the object of Hugh’s lust. The author aptly tells her, “You’re like a woman with every characteristic imaginable, yet none at all.”

Moran is at her funniest in improvisational mode, as she interacts with audience members and riffs off of their responses to her “innocent’’ sex-related questions. Her outfit is dowdy, though, comprised of a denim-type button down tucked into a boring, short black pleated skirt.

Adding plenty of humor and steamy interest is Gabe Bowling as Hugh, a part he performs with consistent melodramatic flourish. Bowling looks like a cross between Edward Norton and Tom Cruise, and the muscle-bound leading man knows how to work it.

Let’s just say Bowling kept the ladies in the audience Friday night continuously enthused. He put on a little strip tease that turned into a Batman look, and, of course, took off his gray tie to tie up his lady love’s wrists.

In the Fifty Shades story, enigmatic, impossibly rich Grey meets Steele and attempts to enter into a business contract with her where he becomes her dominant and she his submissive. Interestingly, this Fifty Shades parody actually downplays the heavy S&M elements from the books.

Handcuffs and a whip briefly appear but there is nary a spanking, despite the production title. Bowling does sing a delightfully funny patter song, though, which quickly sums up many of the kinky aspects of the original characters’ business arrangement.

The play’s language is rough and it’s all about sexual references, so this show is adults-only fare. The producers have attended to every detail, right down to the Tainted Love tune opening the show.

The show is penned by seven writers who are all cleverly listed with initialized first and middle names. But these playwrights are careful to say that their show is not associated with or authorized by Fifty Shades author E.L. James.

They mock online writers as they wittily poke fun at even the genesis of the Fifty Shades trilogy, referencing the fact that the Fifty Shades erotic novels evolved from a Twilight fan fiction website. At one point during Spank, characters Hugh and Tasha comically confuse themselves with Edward and Bella.

Spank’s first act is hilarious and surprising. But the second act grows tiresome and begins to lose its way. The good thing is that for those who haven’t yet read the third book, this parody sticks to the first two books and doesn’t give any plot points away from the third.

For ladies who are big fans, this show will be the perfect hen party. They’ll thoroughly enjoy repeated references to Tasha’s “chronic lip-biting disorder’’ and to the “SHOUTY CAPITALS’’ that the lovers use in email to each other.

But for those who haven’t read the material being parodied, this will all feel like one big inside joke.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.

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