Hot Lunch Apostles

by Sidney Goldfarb
Music by Ellen Maddow and Henry Mann
Directed by Paul Zimet
Featuring Loudon Wainwright, Jack Wetherall, Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepard
La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East 4th Street
March 1, 2012 — March 18, 2012 [press opening March 8, 2012]
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
March 4, 2012

(L-R) Jack Wetherall, Will Badgett.

La MaMa and The Talking Band collaborated in 1983 to present a theatrical adventure involving carnival workers, sex acts, nudity, music, and a traditional passion play (Christ, apostles, crucifixion, resurrection, contemplation). A number of the original creators of that entertainment, then as now called Hot Lunch Apostles, have recreated the piece with a preshow side-show (test your strength and test your pitching arm to win prizes and enjoy some freak show performers), some marvelous vocal and instrumental music, and a play composed of outsiders augmenting their traveling sex show escapades with a bit of religion to increase their box office take. The production provides luminous moments and rough-hewn political and social commentary that works — yes the 1980s were the beginning of the Reagan “trickle down” years and today’s economic woes resonate. I can’t imagine that the show shocks today the way it might have 30 years ago — full frontal nudity involving both genders, openly gay characters, mash-ups of religion and politics are now familiar elements in American theatre. One comes away from the current La MaMa production appreciating the commitment of the actors in this piece and the clarity of the storytelling, rather than with a sense that this piece is truly timeless.

Rod (Jack Wetherall in both the 1983 production and the current one) is the central star of the sex show, and becomes the Christ figure in the passion play.  Gorgeous body, sweet sensibility, committed. Phoebe (Tina Shepard in both 1983 and this production) is petite, wise, experienced, and delivers some of the best lines of the show.  “The worst day of my life,” she notes, “was the day my father made me read the Bible. I found out everything I loved is evil.”  After the laughter, the company continues in its efforts to build a cross, assemble a passion play, augment their repertoire, do whatever it takes to get along.  Barney (Loudon Wainwright) is the owner/manager of the menagerie who schemes to add on the religious content, and Loop (Ellen Maddow) is his “loopy” assistant, instrumentalist in the show music, and deliver-er of the final dialogue intended to make this all perhaps allegorical. Wainwright is a bit stiff as an actor yet endearing in musical performance. Maddow is saddled with playing a half-wit who may not be as witless in the end. Edge (Will Badgett), Cyclone (Edward Rosenberg III) and young Slide (nicHi douglas), the youngest member of the ensemble, complete the troupe.

Paul Zimet‘s direction is energetic, creative, transformative — backstage becomes on stage becomes our stage in this carny world. The set by Nic Ularu is spare and evocative. This is a happening with great music, a recreation with some relevance to the current day. A nod to the important history of La MaMa that might make a fine companion piece to the La MaMa Cantata in any future productions.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 9, 2012)

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