Thursday, June 19, 2008

Somewhere Over The (NewAge) Rainbow

"Eat your heart out, Madonna. The chanteuses who play Madison Square Garden and football stadiums have never experienced the imaginative heights of spectacle with which Basil Twist surrounds Joey Arias in 'Arias With a Twist,' which opened Wednesday night at the newly renovated Here Arts Center.

They uncover Mr. Arias, looking like the vintage pin-up model Bettie Page in dominatrix mode, strapped to a giant, rotating silver wheel and being probed by ghostly aliens. The script, devised by Mr. Arias and Mr. Twist, uses this very close encounter as a dropping-off point for a series of earthly, and often earthy, adventures.

These include Mr. Arias tumbling through space and landing in a glorious Edenic rain forest; eating a magic mushroom that takes him straight to hell; stalking Manhattan as a 50-foot woman,...

And how about those giant dancing devil puppets, which move like Las Vegas chorus boys? Their outsized assets include flailing phalluses, a reminder that though children might find much to revel in here, this is definitely not a kiddie show.

Mr. Arias’s dialogue, delivered in a deadpan mix of little-girl breathlessness and big-girl worldliness, will sound familiar to anyone who’s seen a New York drag show during the last few decades. ('I didn’t even get his phone number,' Mr. Arias sighs after dancing with the devil.)

Mr. Arias registers as a figure of solid human flesh aching to be transported into a world of celluloid dreams. Costumes and makeup can only take a fellow so far. That’s where Mr. Twist comes in, with a fluid mise-en-scène that allows Mr. Arias — and, vicariously, you and me — to go the distance, all the way over the rainbow."


-- Ben Brantley, reviewing "Arias With a Twist" for the New York Times.