Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou holding a whip and handcuffs?

Fifty ShadesBy Richard Ades

Given what they say about lightning striking twice, I had little reason to believe 50 Shades of Shadowbox would be as much fun as its 2015 predecessor.

That show, Sex at the Box, turned out to be my second-most-fun non-horizontal experience of the entire year. I knew it would be impossible to beat, but I hoped the new show would come close to matching its inspired lunacy.

Mostly, it doesn’t. But sometimes it does.

The skit that best reflects the show’s theme is 50 Shades of Romeo, in which star-crossed lovers Romeo (Robbie Nance) and Juliet (Amy Lay) find they share a penchant for kinky canoodling. Adding to the mock-Shakespearean atmosphere is the liberal use of Elizabethan suffixes (“musteth”).

Even funnier is The Ear Pod, featuring Tom Cardinal as a football fan who’s forced to miss the big game so he can attend couples counseling with his unhappy wife (Julie Klein). Miracle of miracles, it even has a punchline that’s both unexpected and amusing.

Maybe I’m being redundant there, as it’s hard for something to make us laugh if it isn’t unexpected. That’s the trouble with some of the evening’s weaker skits: They’re instantly predictable.

As soon as Kyle (JT Walker III) and his sexy girlfriend (Lay) walk into a room in The Jealous Boyfriend, it’s obvious she’s going to meet one ex-beau after another. It’s also obvious how Kyle will react, since the skit’s title gives it away.

Then there’s Spell Check, in which parents Katy Psenicka and Cardinal accuse their son of seeking out Internet porn. The punchline falls flat because it merely confirms what we knew all along.

The show gets off on the wrong foot with its first skit, Laid Off, about a boss (Klein) who decides to “fire” her lover (Cardinal) from the relationship. It’s disappointing because it tries to find laughs in heavy-handed double entendres rather than characterization or clever developments.

Thankfully, several of the other skits are more inventive, even if they aren’t absolute laugh riots. They include RiDickulous (about an app for girls deluged with photos of classmates’ not-so-private parts) and Sexy Nurse (about a hospital in which nurses dress just like they do in men’s lurid fantasies).

Also fairly amusing is Aw Fuk Me, about a 911 service for embarrassed victims of sexual shenanigans gone awry. However, at the performance I attended, it seemed to be cut short by a lighting miscue. It was a rare instance of imperfection for a troupe whose shows usually run like clockwork.

Shadowbox is such an expert at sketch humor that it’s likely director Stev Guyer and his cast will find ways to squeeze more humor out of the show as its run continues. But for now, the skits aren’t as reliably entertaining as the musical numbers.

The best cover songs include Bruno Mars’s Gorilla (sung by Noelle Grandison and Maurin Penn), Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing (sung by Grandison and Guillermo Jemmott) and Prince’s Little Red Corvette (sung by a very Prince-ly Walker).

Judiciously, Shadowbox saves the best for last: Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, with Kline and Lucas Tomasacci trading verses as the dueling leads. The show may not be epic, but it ends in a tunefully epic fashion.

50 Shades of Shadowbox continues through March 19 at Shadowbox Live, 503 S. Front St. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (including intermission). Tickets are $20-$40. 614-716-7625 or www.shadowboxlive.org.

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‘Spotlight’ shines in 14th annual Central Ohio Film Critics Association awards

Central Ohio’s film critics have voted on their favorite films and performances of 2015. I’m happy to report that my favorite 2015 release, Spotlight, won some of the top awards. The press release is below:

Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James (from left) play journalists investigating pedophile priests in Spotlight (Open Road Films)
Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James (from left) play journalists investigating pedophile priests in Spotlight (Open Road Films)

(Columbus, Jan. 7, 2016) Tom McCarthy’s investigative drama Spotlight has been named Best Film in the Central Ohio Film Critics Association’s 14th annual awards, which recognize excellence in the film industry for 2015. The film also claimed three other awards. McCarthy was honored as Best Director. The cast, including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, was named Best Ensemble. And Josh Singer and McCarthy won for Best Original Screenplay.

Columbus-area critics lauded Alicia Vikander with three awards: Best Supporting Actress (Ex Machina); Actor of the Year for her exemplary body of work in Burnt, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son and Testament of Youth; and Breakthrough Film Artist. Other individual screen performers commended for their achievements include Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), who previously was named COFCA’s Best Actor in 2006 for The Departed; Best Actress Brie Larson (Room); and Best Supporting Actor Benicio Del Toro (Sicario).

The Revenant’s Emmanuel Lubezki won Best Cinematography. COFCA members also tabbed him for Best Cinematography in 2011 for The Tree of Life and in 2013 for Gravity. Other winners include: Mad Max: Fury Road’s Margaret Sixel for Best Film Editing; The Big Short’s Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for Best Adapted Screenplay; The Hateful Eight’s Ennio Morricone for Best Score; Best Documentary The Look of Silence; Best Foreign Language Film Phoenix; Best Animated Film Inside Out; and The Tribe (Plemya) as Best Overlooked Film.

Founded in 2002, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association is composed of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio, and the surrounding areas. Its membership consists of 21 print, radio, television and Internet critics. COFCA’s official website at www.cofca.org contains links to member reviews and past award winners.

Winners were announced at a private party on Jan. 7.

Complete list of awards:

Best Film
1. Spotlight
2. Inside Out
3. Room
4. Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Ex Machina
6. Sicario
7. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
8. The Revenant
9. The Big Short
10. The Martian

Best Director
-Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
-Runner-up: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Actor
-Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
-Runner-up: Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Best Actress
-Brie Larson, Room
-Runners-up: Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn; and Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Best Supporting Actor
-Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
-Runner-up: Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina

Best Supporting Actress
-Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
-Runner-up: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Best Ensemble
Spotlight
-Runner-up: The Hateful Eight

Alicia Vikander as an advanced robot named Ava in Ex Machina
Alicia Vikander as an advanced robot named Ava in Ex Machina

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Alicia Vikander, Burnt, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, The Man from
U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son and Testament of Youth
-Runner-up: Domhnall Gleeson, Brooklyn, Ex Machina, The Revenant and Star
Wars: Episode VII -The Force Awakens

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Alicia Vikander, Burnt, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, The Man from
U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son and Testament of Youth (for acting)
-Runner-up: Sean Baker, Tangerine (for producing, directing, screenwriting, film editing, cinematography, camera operation and casting)

Best Cinematography
-Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
-Runner-up: John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Film Editing
-Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road
-Runner-up: Joe Walker, Sicario

Best Adapted Screenplay
-Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, The Big Short
-Runner-up: Emma Donoghue, Room

Best Original Screenplay
-Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
-Runner-up: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley, Inside Out

Best Score
-Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
-Runner-up: Junkie XL, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Documentary
The Look of Silence
-Runner-up: Amy

Best Foreign Language Film
Phoenix
-Runner-up: Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes)

Best Animated Film
Inside Out
-Runner-up: Anomalisa

Best Overlooked Film
The Tribe (Plemya)
-Runner-up: The Gift

COFCA offers its congratulations to the winners.