'Spank!' whips up laughs inspired by '50 Shades of Grey'

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The place to be on opening night of "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody" was the Byham Theater balcony. We downstairs could only guess at what they were chanting even before the, um, action started onstage, and the roars from upstairs kept on coming.

The crude and silly show tickles low-brow, pop-culture sensibilities, even if like me -- yes, I admit it -- you are one of the few women left in the world who have never read the "Fifty Shades of Grey" books. The trio of actors gave the performances their all, delivering the absurdities about lust, sex and S&M with gusto and a knowing wink, which allowed all members of the audience to feel that they were in on the joke.

'Spank! The Fifty Shakes Parody'

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.

When: Through Sept. 21. 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $35.50-$45.50; trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.

To get things started, we were greeted with a musical exhibition of physical strength and smooth moves by the handsome Hugh Hanson, played by the tall, blond object of desire Patrick Whalen, a co-choreographer of the show. He doled out a straight-laced simmer and goofy awareness in equal measure, and a strip-tease down to his undies left the ladies howling.

The women's roles were played by actresses not listed in the program. Anne Marie Scheffler portrayed E.B. Janet, a bored housewife left alone with "enough chardonnay for an elephant's bachelorette party" and a hankering to write a sex fantasy on the Internet, because that's what the Internet is for, right? She picks up her son's Batman toy and begins to conjure a strong, mysterious billionaire with a painful past and thus, she creates Hugh as her version of Bruce Wayne.

The E.B.J. character name is an obvious tip of the hat to "Fifty Shades of Grey" writer E.L. James, whose randy novels turned fan fic into gold and provided fodder for a show in the midst of an extensive North American tour. This is "Spank's" second time around in Pittsburgh; it also played the Byham in January.

Danielle Trzcinski, pigtailed and dressed like a school girl, played E.B.J.'s creation, virginal college student Tasha Woods (Anastasia in the book) who falls under the spell of Hugh's charm but isn't quite convinced about the whole pain is stimulating thing and constantly questions the ridiculous situations the writer gets her into.

A favorite bit was when Hugh introduces Tasha to the Red Room of Pain from the book in character as Willy Wonka, singing about his "room of domination" to the tune of "World of Imagination." The actors throw in mentions of Lawrenceville, Giant Eagle and Mario Lemieux and there's a Tim the Tool Man number, perhaps to ground the men in the audience. They were outnumbered at least 10 to 1, but third-row dwellers Jeremy and Travis, who were among the folks picked on by Tasha during trips into the audience, were good sports.

The packed Byham sported a wide age range of women in pairs and groups and a spattering of men with their significant others. E.B.J. paid tribute to all of the age groups as she began her task of writing a really, really awful fantasy about a virginal girl, a billionaire with painful sexual appetites, and their combustible relationship. Throw in a spattering of songs and jokes -- from groaners to clever to "Oh no, they didn't!" -- and you get the idea.

The shows comes in at under two hours including intermission, and it goes by quickly. It's obviously not for kids or the prudish, and for lovers of the book, there are levels of enjoyment the rest of us can't fathom. For lovers and other strangers to the joys of the phenomenon, "Spank!" whips up pangs of laughter and a naughty, painless night on the town.

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Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published September 20, 2013 4:00 AM


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