When E.L. James' smutty "Fifty Shades of Grey" first became red-hot, its publication was a huge boon for electronic readers like the Nook and the Kindle. Apparently, a lot more women wanted to read this erotic tale of bondage hanky-panky than wanted to be seen at their local bookstore, making the purchase. That fact was swimming in my head Saturday night, as my chin fell to the floor as I watched one of the three performers in "Spank: The Fifty Shades Parody," the latest crummy offering at the Royal George Theatre, wander from the stage and head for the audience with a microphone, just as if this were the "Donny & Marie" show.
I mean, you might well want to sneak off with your pals and see such an R-rated offering — although I think you could have more fun elsewhere and probably outside a theater — but you surely don't then want some chirpy actor in your face, asking for your name and opinion on some salient burning erotic issue of the evening. What's next? I thought. Hometown and phone number? A family newspaper is no place for a full description of this charming piece of actor-audience intercourse, but it involved an inquiry as to the maximum perceived desirable dimension of some foreign object.
And if that it not indication enough of how bizarre things were at the George on Saturday, the bartenders forgot to show up at the beginning of intermission. A huge line of determined, fit-to-be-tied people, understandably needing a lubricating drink, refused to budge until a pair of flushed barkeeps were roused from the theater next door. Audience interaction but no bar service. How out of whack was that?
This is the second "Fifty Shades" parody to arrive within a couple of weeks. With no granting of danger pay, your humble correspondent has sat through both of them. The first, "50 Shades! The Musical" by Baby Wants Candy, has left town, but it was actually very funny because it contained witty original songs (performed by a live band and pretty big and weird cast) and genuinely subverted the book, reducing its dominant central character to a comic dude with a little pot belly, and satirizing our apparent fascination with sexual control.
"Spank," which uses only three actors and a taped accompaniment, not only goes on forever (two acts!), but gets stuck in a disastrous middle ground by going after the book in a more obvious and juvenile way —think overripe erotica — and without employing any discernible satiric bite. Michelle Vezilj, who plays the fictional character based on the young blank-slate adventurer of the book, is the best performer of the trio, although in fairness to Drew Moerlein, he's stuck with some dazzlingly lousy material. I chuckled at one, faux-Sondheim song (!) in Act 2. But there's about enough acceptable stuff here for one-tenth of a third-string Second City revue. It's not just that the big venue overpowers the show; it has it handcuffed to the floor.
Amanda Barker, who plays the faux-author of these insipid, wildly overpriced proceedings, written and directed by Jim Millan, is a good deal less funny than she seems to think. She kept uttering little non sequiturs about Canadians, the sex life of whom rarely lights a fire in Chicago.
'Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody'
When: Through Dec. 16
Where: 1641 N. Halsted St.
Running time: 2 hours, minutes
Tickets: $42.50-52.50 at 800-982-2787 or spankshow.com