“50 Shades of Grey,” Sam Taylor-Johnson’s new movie based on E.L. James’ 2011 popular bondage and domination novel, took in more than $90 million at the box office and became the all-time biggest movie opening over a Presidents’ Day weekend.
The film, which has been panned by many critics, has proved itself ripe for inventive put-downs (Star Tribune film critic Colin Covert called it a “snoregasm”) and sendups (the Brave New Workshop’s “50 Shades of Gravy,” which opened over the weekend).
At the workshop on Friday, cast members Lauren Anderson, Bobby Gardner, Andy Hilbrands, Tom Reed and Taj Ruler who wrote “Gravy,” wasted little time in throwing shade on “50 Shades.” In sketches interspersed throughout the show, “Gravy” skewers ideas from the cultural juggernaut, including a jaunty musical number about the joys of self-pleasure (“No One’s Unhappy When…”).
In another sketch, Anderson and Ruler channel their inner goddesses as they confuse their metaphors and feminist thoughts. And in a running gag, an over-pronouncing, much-accused Bill Cosby (Hilbrands) reads excerpts from the novel.
But “Gravy” is not only about the phenomenon that director Caleb McEwen, in a preshow speech, described as “polluting the land.” The workshop takes aim at many other subjects, including a famous singer whose simplistic answer to any problem is “Shake it Off.”
“If you take ‘50 Shades’ and replace the handcuffs with guitars and the orgasms with Diet Coke, you get Taylor Swift,” said Hilbrands in the show’s introductory duologue (he delivers with Ruler).
“Gravy” has mature themes with mostly PG language. And it offers pointed critiques of other topics ripped from the headlines. For example, there are two sketches about a black man (Hilbrands) and his excited white girlfriend (Anderson), pulled over by an officer in Wisconsin. It turns her on to witness such a pullover, and she makes the most of it.
There also are scenes about hiring and qualifications. In fact, some of the racial issues that have bubbled over in the #blacklivesmatter protests are vividly, and humorously, illustrated in sharp ways in this production, which also sends up Fox News and NPR.
“Gravy” also includes a hyper-macho, overzealous exercise Nazi, er, trainer (Gardner) who is prone to making inappropriate comparisons. “I want to ethnically cleanse your glutes,” he says with taut muscles. That sketch, “Psychosis,” shows domination and punishment in a different realm.
And “Gravy” includes interesting snippets of conversations from a rotating cast of carpool riders. These breezy, drive-by snippets help to make the Workshop’s latest revue 50 shades of funny.