One more reviewer singing praises. Can't resist.
Arias With A Twist
by Steven Sparling
Thursday Jun 19, 2008
Fans of the underground odd and artful rejoice, for Joey Arias is back in New York. In Arias With a Twist, drag performer and singer Joey Arias has hooked up with master puppeteer Basil Twist to create a moving atmospheric swath of sound and vision.
Arias channels Billie Holiday while cavorting in all sorts of bizarre, sometimes creepy, settings. He croons love songs with a snake writing around him and sings opera while spinning on a wheel with a coterie of aliens with glowing blue eyes swaying to the beat. Arias even does a marionette make-out with a couple demons during a "Hell" segment-looking quite natural with two large protruding phalluses in his face and ass.
The small stage lends itself well to puppets cavorting around the life-size Arias. The 70-seat Dorothy B. Williams Theatre in the newly renovated Here Arts Center is the perfect size for this show, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Dream Music Puppetry Program and the Dorothy B. Williams Theatre.
Innovative third generation puppeteer and director Basil Twist works wonders with Arias, who has just ended his six-year stint as emcee in "Mistress of Seduction" in the Las Vegas R-rated Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity.
"Arias With a Twist" is about coming home. Arias was a drag artiste in New York City's underground performance art scene for the last three decades. His return brings us an intimate fantasy and a refreshing gulp of extant bohemian air.
It's a drag show with puppets but much, much more. I could tell it was going to be a raucous, and surprisingly emotional night from the very first moment as the Harvey Feirstein-Vincent Price-like voice announced over the speakers for audience members to "turn off all cell phones, iPhones, Blackberries, and dingleberries."
The whole hour-plus show is a feast for the senses, taking Joey Arias from outer space, to a jungle, to a drug-induced hallucination, to Hell, and finally to Manhattan as a giant woman stomping through the streets and eating people out of subway cars a la "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman." Each scene comes alive by way of six talented puppeteers and smart song selections from standards to avant garde.
It's freakish fun, like a ganglion explosion of sheer joy at the sound and spectacle of work that so courageously eschews the expected and the ordinary. Lots of curtains, scrims, and digital projections add to the constant movement, and quick segues between scenes.
The feel of the whole show put me in mind of David Lynch's "Eraserhead," only with a twist of '50s sci fi and '40s big band thrown in. The clip of Joan Crawford in the her bathtub on the telephone in the movie "The Women" is dubbed over with Arias talking about the much-anticipated NYC return of Joey Arias.
These and other movie clips are spliced together in quick succession to create a cacophony of noisy chatter (all voices by Arias in a recording) about the building excitement over his arrival to New York. Movie clips and digital projection effects keep the pace of show up throughout the show so there's never a lull.
Arias' performance of Joni Mitchell's song "Twisted" is kooky bliss. Some pulsing, hypnotic new songs create nightmarish ambiance. A jazzy version of Debussy's "Clare de Lune" provides a weirdly touching moment.
The proceedings end with a fitting Busby Berkley ring of puppet legs doing kicks from a spinning platform with Arias in the center on all-fours and in garters. Most of the show has Arias in Bettie Page drag, and for a couple numbers he wears gowns as mesh-like as the many screens and scrims used throughout the show.
The show ended with a touching homage to NYC. Arias thanked his crew and audience, and his city, which he said is not dead- it's as alive and vibrant and fascinating as ever. So is Joey Arias. Joey's back where he belongs with a new delectable artistic vision of high-art drag performance where he started it all.
"Arias With a Twist"
Opens June 18 (preview before that)
Runs through July 13
HERE Arts Center
145 Sixth Ave.