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Patrick Whalen is a delicious dominant sex object who can also sing beautifully
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Next gay theatre review: Spank! The Musical

Fifty Shades of Grey is parodied to hilarious effect


The only thing one needs to know about Spank! is that it is very, very funny.

My only familiarity with the Fifty Shades books is what I managed to surreptitiously read over the shoulder of a woman on the subway. In the scene I managed to skim, the heroine enters a hotel room, is ordered to strip naked and then the author proceeds with at least three pages of description of the luxurious room and its interior design — it didn't do much for me, but whatever kind of porn floats your boat is fine. If that is the actual quality of the books, then Spank! has lampooned them to perfection. A scene where the submissive enters the dominant's bathroom and is sexually aroused by the fixtures and linens (and brought to climax by a brand-name and relentlessly plugged, no pun intended, electric toothbrush) is a master class in innuendo.

There are numerous funny lines and set pieces, so if the evening never coalesces into a coherent piece of theatre, it doesn't really matter. If a joke or song parody falls flat, there's another one in a few seconds. And just in case there is any chance of being less than engaged, the sex object in question, played by the ridiculously handsome and happily shirt-allergic Patrick Whalen (who was prominently featured in Fab's 2011 underwear issue and on the cover of the 2010 New Year's issue, also shirt -- and pant -- less), will launch into a gratuitous but welcome strip routine. Whalen proves, when not locked into his emotionless character, to have a great singing voice and a real presence (beyond his pecs and abs) when a sly smile emerges.

Spank! is obviously aimed directly at sexually frustrated soccer moms, who are also, I assume, the main consumers of the books. It was a bit of a cultural safari for a gay man to be in the midst of a frenzied crowd of horned-up women eager for a hot erotic experience with a side dish of laughter. Equally fascinating were their apparently befuddled and confused husbands/boyfriends, who seemed to spend a lot of time perusing their electronic devices. A man in the row ahead of us was absorbed in a Simpsons-themed video game on his iPad. I'm also still puzzling over why panda bears and Anderson Cooper consistently get laughs — extinction humour is a new concept for me — and why nipple clamps are considered risqué and shocking, while fisting is the butt, no pun intended, of many relaxed jokes. I sincerely hope that suburban female sexuality isn't in such dire shape — it has to have been exaggerated for comedic effect, but then, a Simpsons video game at a sexually themed theatrical event? — but if openness about sadomasochistic desires is inspiring more slap and tickle, then Spank! and Fifty Shades have more than earned their place in the cultural landscape. It is tragic, however, that the ending offers the same irrational solution that placed the sexually frustrated soccer moms in their sad situation to begin with — is your love object emotionally unattainable but sexually available? Marry him. Hmmm. There just might be a lesson for us gay men in there as well.

Occasionally, the show betrays its improvisational roots (which can also be an advantage — a deviation into fisting etiquette on the night I attended was utterly hilarious) with lighting cues that were erratic enough to interfere with the pacing. And it would be wonderful if the Mirvishes would divert some of the millions they are going to spend on condos and drop a few thousand on cleaning up the sound at the Panasonic. This is the third show in a row that was severely hampered by muddy, unbalanced sound and malfunctioning microphones. The spunky, no pun intended, cast of Spank! could probably sell a show this entertaining on any stage — their enthusiasm and joyfulness fills the room and their infectious laughter at sexual foibles covers any flaws.

At intermission an elderly matron near the front stood happily bopping along to the play list of mildly salacious dance tunes. With a big blissful smile on her face she unconsciously began caressing her designer-clad breasts. I got a lot of laughs and joy out of the show, but someone got a whole lot more. It was delightful to watch.

Spank! runs till Sun, Nov 18 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge St. spankshow.com, mirvish.com

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