Somewhere around 2:54 p.m. on October 6, I started to become very aware of my masculinity.
All around me, crowded into the seats at the CityStage theater in Springfield, Mass. were women – young women wearing bright clothes and sipping drinks from plastic martini glasses, older women laughing in groups with big smiles, and elderly women whispering over their shoulders to one another with excited looks on their faces. Even the men’s bathroom had been converted into a second ladies’ room, and everywhere I looked there was an abundance of the color pink.
So why the influx of estrogen in the City of Homes? Well, according to CityStage President Tina D’Agostino, everyone was about to be spanked.
“That’s just how we do it in Western Mass,” D’Agostino said to a house full of laughs as she stood in the spotlight on stage to make a brief introduction to the venue’s matinee performance of “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody.”
Based on the popular “Fifty Shades of Grey” book series by author E.L. James, “Spank” was making its world premiere at CityStage and consisted of part play, part musical and all spoof as it tackled the novels’ mix of romantic fiction and erotic sex with its own unique blend of comic absurdity.
Co-written by director Jim Millan, whose other credits include “Kids in the Hall” and “Mythbusters Live,” and a group of friends, the production also showed a remarkable amount of polish for a concept that only came together over the past month.
“We started [work on “Spank”] after Labor Day,” said Millan in a recent e-mail interview. “It may be the funniest thing any of us ever write. It came together like it was meant to be.”
Certainly the show has already garnered many of the reactions Millan had hoped it would. For example, opening to the strains of the ‘80s hit “Tainted Love” as performed by shock rocker Marilyn Manson, the beginning of Saturday’s matinee performance was greeted by enthusiastic cheers that quickly turned to squeals as “Spank’s” male star made his first appearance.
Stepping forward from an opening formed between several curtains, Hugh Hansen (as played by Josh Gates) was quickly joined by co-star Tasha (played by Stephanie Vicars) in a risqué dance that was received very favorably by the gathered crowd before being interrupted by the show’s third cast member and narrator “Easy Breezy” Janet (played by Joni Chandon). Despite making up the entirety of “Spank’s” cast, the trio proved more than capable of not only holding the audience’s attention with their quick wit and delivery of lines dripping with innuendo, but also of filling the large space allotted to them on stage.
Interestingly, for a play whose settings featured a variety of locations including a billionaire’s mansion, a hardware store and a restaurant in the middle of a secluded cave, “Spank’s” sparse stage dressing consisted merely of some curtains and a small black box that was mostly used as a seat for Janet to sit on, while she talked her way through the writing of her very own sexual fantasy novel for the audience. A multitude of props – a Batman costume, a mock hover craft, and a pair of hang gliders amongst others – helped keep things fresh, but the true action came from the story, which while inspired by the first installment in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy also incorporated many easily identifiable pop culture references.
Millan said, “We had to make a satisfactory journey for our characters because our fantasy about a fantasy could have gone in hundreds of funny directions. In fact we did explore it that way. We probably have enough funny material on the cutting room floor for another act. [But] we wanted it to make sense and make points that were insightful and fun while telling the story of a virgin and her bad boy billionaire.”
“Twilight,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” “Love Actually” – all such films and subjects became prime fodder for mockery by “Spank” and created fun deviations in the storyline for the crowd to follow. Also adding to the fun was the use of improvisation by the cast, especially Vicars, who several times during the show ventured into the audience to interact with theater goers to varying degrees of success.
By the time “Spank’s” first act came to a close with another risqué dance seemingly on its way to consummation, many in attendance were on the edges of their seats and ready for more. Fortunately time during the intermission was made more bearable for some by the imbibing of special cocktails created exclusively for the event and the purchase of chocolate penises (both milk chocolate and dark) that added to the overall festive mood, which more closely resembled a bachelorette party than it did a typical afternoon out at the theater.
In fact, if there was one downside to the performance it was the show’s duration, which even including its brief intermission, came in at a tidy two hours. The conclusion of the play felt slightly rushed, no doubt as a result of the second half’s madcap sprint to the finish that saw both Gates and Chandon taking on the roles of multiple characters sometimes within the same scene. But then again, with two more books worth of material out there to mine for comedic gold, Millan noted that a future sequel to “Spank” could be in the works.
“Who knows? Given the response, there may be a trilogy in our future,” he said.
Future New England performances are already booked for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, Conn. from October 25-27, and a nationwide tour for “Spank” is set for 2013.
As for the show’s billing as “the girl’s night out of the year,” Millan professes that unsuspecting males dragged to performances as dates will also find plenty to enjoy.
“You guys are lucky,” he said. “You will thank me and have a great night before and after the show.”
For more information on “Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody” please visit http://www.millsentertainment.com/productions/spank.php.
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