Is there anything more ripe for lampooning than the S&M mommy porn “Fifty Shades of Grey?”
“Fifty Shades of Felt” strikes that low-hanging fruit hard with puppets working out the kinks and whipping up some laughs through Aug. 20 at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale. The comedy is the work of the All Puppet Players, a nomadic, Phoenix-based troupe that has staged shows with titles such as “Jurassic Puppets,” “Alien: A Puppet Show” and “Puppet Wars Episode IV: A Few Hope.”
We are told, repeatedly, in “Fifty Shades of Felt” that the narrative follows the bestseller’s plot closely, so if you read the first book of the trilogy (or saw the movies), you’re good to go. If you did not, you’re probably still just fine. How much nuance can you expect from a show in which a gigantic, pillowlike penis and vagina act out the blush-worthy particulars of puppet sex, culminating in a liberal use of spewed Silly String?
In “Fifty Shades of Grey,” comely coed Anastasia Steele is pressed into interviewing successful entrepreneur Christian Grey for her college newspaper. There is awkward chemistry, but no love connection. Later, Anastasia finds out that that Christian “doesn’t do romance,” but likes bondage, discipline and submission. If he can’t have that, then old-fashioned rough sex will do. If you think that sounds silly, wait until you see it being reenacted by a bunch of delightfully ridiculous fuzzies. Know this: “Fifty Shades of Felt” beats every sex joke with a big shtick and is essentially a barrage of dirty and low-down punch lines and sight gags. It’s like “Avenue Q” set in a red light district.
The puppetry itself is underwhelming, which, on second thought, might be part of the meta humor of the much-razzed “Fifty Shades” franchise. The idea of taking “Sesame Street” into triple-X territory is supposed to be the catapult for the comedy, but whole parts fall flat. As you might expect, the amazingly explicit puppet-on-puppet sex scenes are the funniest bits. And yet the performance comes off like kids playing, making it all up as they go. It’s hard to tell if this is a loose and ragged production with props falling, lines misfiring and sets wobbling, or if the cast is craftily channeling a guerrilla-theaterlike meme on the cheesiness of its source material.
On the other, ahem, hand, it’s probably not a good idea to overthink this. After all, the show consists of puppets having kinky sex in front of a bunch of chortling voyeurs.
“Fifty Shades of Felt” is running through Aug. 20 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive, in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 8:30 p.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $35. To order, go to RonnieLarsen.com.