Arts & Culture Blog
50 Shades Funnier than the Book
January 24, 2013
Where millions of readers found some spicy romance in E.L. James' bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey, playwright/director Jim Millan found comedy.
"As soon as you say it’s a 28-year-old billionaire falling for a 22-year-old virgin, the comedy just presents itself," Millan says.
And lucky for a big crowd at Golden State Theatre Wednesday night that it did. Millan's parody, SPANK!, makes no bones about knocking James' childish writing. The author of the dark romance (in SPANK!, it's EBJ—Easy Breezy Janet) is a main character, perched onstage chugging Chardonnay while her husband and the boys are away.
"They dance like a pair of dancers," she says in the opening lines. "I'm a pretty good writer!"
The self-consciousness about the quality of the writing makes SPANK! funnier for audiences who've endured reading the book, though there's plenty of satire on the plot itself.
When Natasha (the theatrical version of the trilogy's Anastasia Steele) first comes close to Hugh Hanson (the theatrical version of Christian Grey), she says, "You smell like danger and expensive body wash."
The rich, sexy sadist has a chair originally owned by the Marquis de Sade, and later owned by Lance Bass of 'N Sync. He also takes Natasha on a ride in his hovercraft, which "glided like an ice cube across the belly of a young Clint Eastwood."
The cast of three delivered a tight, well-executed performance, with a few kickers featuring ad-libbed local lines (EBJ lost her virginity with that guy from Salinas, and remembers that time at Northridge Mall…) and a few quality audience participation moments.
"Sometimes when the lead man comes out, it’s a bit like a Justin Bieber concert," Millan says, "with the screaming and yelling." (Last night was no exception.)
Three randomly selected audience members play Natasha's exes (each relationship lasted a week), and it's a show that's best served by a participatory, rowdy bunch of viewers.
EBJ queried the audience for what to call Natasha's genitals (in the book, James goes for "her sex" as if it were the mid-19th century) and got a few choice suggestions, including va-cake. She settled on "down there."
There's actually never any spanking, paddling, tying up, nudity, or actual sex in the play—fitting for a parody considering there's surprisingly little in a book that's supposed to be kinky. After Hugh Hanson takes Natasha into his Red Room of Pain (straight from the book, with whips and chains and restraint devices), EBJ narrates: "That's when it hit her: This was sex stuff. This stuff was for sex."
Even Millan's straight-laced lawyer (who read both the book and the parody to make sure it would qualify as fair use under parody law) told him the play was better-written than the book. "That was a nice review," Millan says.
Millan says it's been hard for two touring companies to keep up with demand. Next, casts are headed to Australia and Moscow for runs.
He's not sure if the show will head to the UK where James lives, and adds, "Parody laws are different in the U.S. than England, so we’ll have to find out if there’s anything to worry about."