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THEATER REVIEW Fifty Shades of Shakespeare
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2018-02-02

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Created and developed by: Jess Shoemaker

At: Mary's Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. Tickets: RediscoverTheatre.com/fifty-shades-of-shakespeare; $15; Runs through: Feb. 24

Recent news is fraught with frightening stories about men ( including our very own president ) using their considerable power to sexually harass and abuse women and men. Celebrating sex as a consensual fun time is can be difficult, but not if you're ( re )discover theatre.

Its Fifty Shades of Shakespeare, now in its fifth year, is a raucous yet responsible blast, filled with gender play, kink and various takes on intimacy through the eyes of the Bard of Avon. Now in its fifth year, Fifty Shades of Shakespeare encourages good sex, whatever that means to you, with a diverse quartet—or trio, as was the case on opening night—of talented, enthusiastic performers ready to take your Valentine's Day game to the next level.

Director Lexi Saunders is a queer woman, and Fifty Shades' cast of four features two performers of color, two who are nonbinary and at least one who identifies as queer. At the beginning of the show, the performers ( who've been bouncing around collecting sexy suggestions from audience members for their "Honesty Box" ) introduce themselves and their pronouns.

They emphasize enthusiastic consent: Audience participation is encouraged but not mandatory, and all you have to do is say "no," no questions asked. Then the real fun begins: a bevy of Shakespearean love scenes from everything to Romeo and Juliet ( the show's through-line ) to Measure for Measure to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The audience helps "cast" the scenes—each actor knows every role—and after a quick fight/intimacy call, the performers are at hand, ready to play. But this isn't your mother's Shakespeare: At least two scenes involve BDSM and role play. ( Opening night's involved a mermaid and a sailor. ) Gender conformity is thrown to the wind, and there's copious PDA and impressive stage combat. The result is a hilarious 75 minutes, enjoyable for any adult.

"Sex-positive" is a term thrown around a lot these days, and often misused, even abused, by the wrong people. Fifty Shades of Shakespeare does sex-positive right: establishing the ground rules in a light, fun way, before embracing the utter silliness that often ensues with "making love." Unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, this show presents BDSM as it should be—with knowing and enthusiastic participants who aren't afraid to use the audience-designated safe word. The actors are friendly, engaging and nimble, tossing off iambic pentameter and impressive moves and never missing an opportunity for a laugh, with a few moments of sweet and beautiful vulnerability along the way.

This February, both Shakespeare and sex are alive and well at Mary's Attic. Fifty Shades of Shakespeare makes for an excellent date night, Galentine's Day or solo activity, and holds up to multiple viewings. ( Although the actors are the same, the roles they play change every performance. ) Featuring plenty of representation, verse and even a little striptease, this hilarious send-up of classical text shows that sex can be simultaneously safe, respectful and fun.


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