Review - Hot Lunch Apostles & Gotham Burlesque

Sidney Goldfarb's Hot Lunch Apostles might have been quite the shocker when The Talking Band's original production, with its run-down carnival setting that has strippers trying to spice up business by presenting religious tableaus, premiered at La MaMa in 1983. But if director Paul Zimet's spirited revival offers more of a nostalgic look at the type of avant-garde that had congress debating the value of arts funding three decades ago, the material is wrapped in a fun, participatory production.

Before taking their seats, audience members are treated to a one-room fairground, dressed in the gritty style you'd find over at the Coney Island side show. On display are human oddities such as a shy Zug Poet (Linda Tardif) and a singing dead cowboy played by the great folk singer Loudon Wainwright III. You can munch on a hot pretzel and wash it down with a beer or try your hand at the test of strength or the beanbag toss.

Once the play begins, it's all proscenium theatre. Though written in the 1980s, it was set in a future where millions are unemployed (how convenient for this revival) and the proprietor of a burlesque-themed traveling carnival show (Wainwright) finds it's getting tougher and tougher to make a buck. Tina Shepard and Jack Wetherall play strippers (full nudity), reprising the roles they originated in '83. Whatever age they may be, they both look great and perform with spunk and enthusiasm. nicHe douglas (That's the way she spells it.) plays the new stripper on the block and, aside from dancing, the ladies played by her and Shepard also offer customers a chance to pay for a little extra referred to as a "hot lunch."

But sex isn't selling like it used to, so the troupe turns to mixing up the skin display with some religious pageantry, with any question of appropriateness squashed with the attitude, ""If Christ came back right now, do you know who he'd hang out with?"

While there isn't much character depth to deal with here, the cast amiably goes forth in their lightweight scenes and snippets of performance pieces. Inevitably, risky theatre tends to lose its edge with age and though this production of Hot Lunch Apostles is a fine mounting, the text doesn't hold up without its ability to make viewers feel uncomfortable.

Photo by Darien Bates: Tina Shepard (on floor), Ellen Maddow, Jack Wetherall and Will Badgett.

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"That's how I like 'em, fake and gorgeous," quips the self-proclaimed "female female impersonator" known as World Famous *BOB* as she surveys the Triad crowd at the March edition of Gotham Burlesque. Most of her punch lines can't be repeated here (although I loved her comments about how gaining weight and wearing tight clothes eliminate the need for ironing) but her combination of elegance and trashiness exemplifies the cheery and oddly gender-uniting qualities that make contemporary burlesque such fun.

Gotham Burlesque is closing in on a year of presenting top-shelf talent in their monthly shows at The Triad. With World Famous *BOB* serving as host, each edition features a different lineup, and a survey of past and future acts proves an impressive mix.

March's headliner, Harvest Moon, is known for dangling from trapezes and climbing swathes of silk. The lack of airspace on The Triad's stage may have kept her earthbound, but her enticing undulations and wild hair-whipping - first as a temptress in black and later as a silver-clad goddess - still thrilled the crowd.

The popular Helen Pontani, known as the "Tapping Tornado," brought the adorable flavor of an early Ziegfeld-era chorine, decorated in feathers and rhinestones, while Pinky Special go-goed in a mod 60s style, remarkably managing to remove her mini-dress while hula-hooping. (I won't tell you where she hides her lollipop.)

Medianoche performed a hot Latin ballroom dance with her partner, Ariel Rios, and later on her classic strip-tease revealed a corseted figure that was the closest I've ever seen to seriously resembling an hourglass.

Tanzi had a very funny routine stripping out of a Snow White outfit, lip-syncing a duet with a feathered friend before the music abruptly changed to Jewel Akens' classic "(Let me tell you 'bout) The Birds and The Bees." Madame Rosebud looked chic wearing black lace and a traditional gown.

Stage kitten Dangrrr Doll tastefully teased in her duties clearing the stage after each act and go-going for tips at intermission.

For those seeking thrills of a less erotic nature, The Great Fredini dazzled the crowd with his comic sleight of hand and fearless sword swallowing, bringing a tipsy bride-to-be on stage for a few wedding night tips.

Gotham Burlesque returns to The Triad for two shows on April 7th, where boylesque star Tigger! heads the bill, and on May 5th, the fabulous Dirty Martini pays a visit.

Photo: World Famous *BOB*

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