If the relentlessly Glee-ful Jesus in the current Broadway revival of Godspell is too repulsively vanilla for you, then La MaMa’s got your cure. Their revival of Sidney Goldfarb’s Hot Lunch Apostles—first produced by the Talking Band in 1983—is bursting at the seams with wanton lewdness. Apostles is a nudity-packed, pull-no-punches take on a traveling horde of burlesque sideshow performers who fold Bible stories into their naughty repertoire (“hot lunch” is a euphemism for sloppy oral sex). The play may not have shock value going for it anymore, but its timeliness cannot be denied. Zeroing in on a 21st-century country facing startling unemployment rates and a precipitous rise in religious appetite, it seems a fine time for the piece’s resurrection.
Talking Band revives the show itself, with some of the play’s original members—Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepard, and Jack Wetherall, who’s touching as the Jesus stand-in, Rod. There’s also the welcome addition of singer Loudon Wainwright III as the burlesque performers’ potty-mouthed, brash ringleader. Having seasoned vets return to the very same material only amplifies the familial, wear-and-tear quality of the people depicted. They ground Goldfarb’s play, which despite controversial means, is anything but blasphemous. In fact, it may be a more searching effort about the subject of survival than many more sober renditions of same. There a few missteps: A live carnival before the La MaMa patrons reach their theater seats seems a gimmicky disconnect from the actual play, and random cell phones wielded by cast members seem like too conspicuous a nod to the here and now. But quibbles aside, Hot Lunch Apostles sure beats an umpteenth, Idol-ized rendition of “Day by Day.”