"50 Shades of Cray," or "A Night at the Theater."

Due as much to my absence from the office and his busy-ness while at the office, my charming and foreign (and charmingly foreign) cube-mate, SD, and I don't often have the time to extend conversations beyond variations on the themes of "Good morning!", "How are you?", and "Have a good weekend!" So it must have been fate that he was leaving the office early (very rare for him) and I was in the office at all (extremely rare for me) and that we had a solid 12 minutes' walk to the Harvard Square T stop to catch up on Thursday.

Somehow, my love of reading Entertainment Weekly TV recaps came up and we had a full-on discussion of reviewing books versus movies versus television episodes. I often joke that writing the recaps for episodes of something highly-layered and subtly profound enough to merit some literary analysis (like 'American Horror Story' or the late 'Damages') or something totally frivolous, glitzy, and unintentionally satirical  (like 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' or even 'The Bachelor') would be my perfect side-job.

So in light of that conversation, I wanted to throw my hat in the ring for recapping not a tv show but a performance I saw last Thursday night, none other than...

'Spank: The Fifty Shades Parody.'

For reasons that can be only nebulously justified, I've read the whole 'Fifty Shades' trilogy (yes, there are three) and I've also read the entire 'Twilight' series and seen all the movies. (Go on and judge. I still graduated from Princeton). And honestly, reading them is worth it if for no other reason but to understand the critical gems from Cracked.comThe Oatmeal, or 50 Shades of Suck, all of which will be amusing if you haven't read the books, but will provoke laughter-induced stomach pain if you have.

So as an ironic reader of these two viral series that have inundated--no, waterlogged--pop culture, I was more than excited to see what a parody musical of '50 Shades of Grey' would be like, especially after a long week of hitting the books for a financial accounting course.

You already know your evening is going to be memorable when you see the people standing next to you in line are generally between the ages of 35 and 50 and wearing cheap-looking, sequined items of clothing. By the time I found my seat, I felt like I'd purchased tickets not for a show but for a
cougar bachelorette party. Many of these women were obviously on girls' nights out, but some poor husbands (or, given the content of the show,  shall we say Submissives?) had been suckered into occupying the remaining 10% of the seats of the Wilbur Theatre.

Instead of an orchestral warm-up humming from below the stage, you have speakers playing a very much tongue-in-cheek song selection before the curtains go up, including Katy Perry's 'Hot N Cold,' Christina Aguilera's 'Ain't No Other Man,' and, of course, Rihanna's 'S&M.' (I don't think the people sitting next to me understood why I was already laughing so hard; I'm guessing they didn't notice the song choice as they gulped their Chardonnay and wrote me off as some weirdo 20-something who had a taste for the perverse.)

Right before the show begins, the average, monotone availing you of the emergency exits that tells you to "please silence your cell phones" is replaced by a deep voice carrying a knowing wink as he tells you to "please switch your phones to vibrate." I'm thinking, "if this is how they cover their comedic bases in the run-up to the show, this is going to be brilliant."

And it was. The curtain rises and against a red, velvety backdrop, we witness our Hugh Hanson (the parody version of Christian Grey), who looks like a combination of James Van der Beek and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, perform a 'Magic Mike'-worthy striptease to what I think was the Marilyn Manson version of 'Tainted Love.' The audience whoops as the temperature of the room rises a few degrees before we meet the parody version of E.L. James, E.B. Janet ("not easy blow job, Janet," she reminds you shortly into one of her monologues). Like a Virgil guiding Dante into hell, E.B. Janet, fanfiction author extraordinaire and mother of two, guides you into the purgatory that is writing a sex book in one weekend. She kicks off the writing process with a bottle of white wine in hand and a song to the tune of Cabaret's 'Mein Herr' (hilariously enough) on her lips. Her finesse and look, not to mention her comedic timing, reminded me of a young Susan Sarandon, if Sarandon were to pregame a performance with a bottle of Chardonnay.

Tasha Woode (AKA Ana Steele) plays the ultimate tabula rasa, a puppet subject to the whim of Janet's every keystroke. An obvious jab at E.L. James' and her inspiration for Ana from Stephenie Meyers' Bella, Janet makes Tasha's only character "flaws" her clumsiness (which doesn't go away) and her virginity (which isn't actually a flaw, but it sure goes away. Far, far away). I give major credit to the actress who plays Tasha for taking "playing dumb" to a whole new level. She lays on the naïveté just enough for us to be able to laugh at her in the scripted elements of the show and laugh with her in the improvised parts. A decently tame example of the latter (and an exchange that could easily inspire a post on Jezebel):

Tasha (to an audience member): "Can I make my boyfriend love me by letting him put stuff in my butt?"
Audience member named Jeff: "You'll get a ring."


As far as the musical elements of the show, there was a smorgasbord of hilariously-adapted songs: Tasha sings a contextually-inspired version of "I Know Things Now" from that is twice as funny if you've picked up the fact that this song is originally from 'Into the Woods.' But the strongest musical moments come from Hugh, who turns Willy Wonka's "Pure Imagination" into a song of "Sexy Domination" and turns Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" into the song it was meant to be with one-liners such as "I can paddle you forever/you can be my sex canoe." And the only thing funnier than his singing is the second of the show's stripteases. Just when we think Hugh has turned his back to the audience to put on some leather BDSM costume, he turns around and we realize that he is, in fact, wearing a Batman ensemble: complete with cape and mask (but no George Clooney-esque bat nipples). He hams it up for the 40-somethings as he gyrates to a bass-heavy version of 'I Put A Spell On You,' that ends with him in Batman undies, which should really be available for purchase as a souvenir.

Other moments that had me convinced that the writers for this show are people you'd want to go to a party with:

1. The end of the show, naturally, has Hugh declaring his love and desire to marry Tasha. Doing so in a manner inspired by 'Love, Actually,' complete with the "but since it's Christmas" cue cards (which look like this if you haven't seen the movie).

Tasha: "But it's not Christmas."
Hugh: "Oh. I bought Christmas with my money."
(Anyone who watches 30 Rock, the delivery of this line was both reminiscent of and worthy of Jack Donaghy).

2. Earlier in the show, when Hugh saves Tasha from being run over by a car.

Tasha (wrapped in Hugh's embrace): "You smell like expensive body wash."
Hugh (deadpan): "I know. It's made from panda tears."

3. Midway through the show, explaining the presence onstage of a contraption involving a football helmet, a fake blue ponytail, and a black rubber phallus with a spiraling white stripe:

Janet: "I bet you're wondering what this is. It's a screw-nicorn!"

Even though I'll never be able to look at an electric toothbrush  or a football helmet the same away ever again, I recommend anyone in the vicinity of where 'Spank' is touring go see this. The more you know about the book series and about pop culture and some musical theater, the more you'll appreciate the show's multiple levels of cleverness. And if you have a pair of ovaries, you'll probably like this more. But even if you're male or only possess a cursory knowledge of the book or music, the show is basically what you get if you had the writers from "Community" or a good season of 'Saturday Night Live' do a meticulously-executed episode or sketch themed around '50 Shades of Grey' (speaking of which, you should watch this SNL-spoofed Amazon ad).

In other words, prepare to be funny boned.