Arias with a Twist
It is obvious that performer Joey Arias and puppeteer Basil Twist, the creative minds behind Arias with a Twist, now at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, have a purpose for everything they have done in this wild 90 minutes of illusion and entertainment. Whether or not the audience can always follow their mental flights is uncertain, but no viewer will be bored.
In one psychedelic, dreamlike tableau after another, Ariasa drag performer with a stunning voice and an ability to channel Billie Holidayfirst appears on board a spaceship, surrounded by spectral aliens. After falling into a jungle that could be the Garden of Eden (snakes galore, not to mention phallic flowers and a glittering magic mushroom), she rampages through a miniature New York City skyline; has a run-in with two human-size, demonic crustaceans; and finds salvation in a 1930s New York supper club where disembodied legs perform a Busby Berkeley-inspired dance routine.
That's the closest thing to a narrative arc that appears in Arias with a Twist. Twist's staging makes all the difference, as a six-member team of puppeteers manipulate his dizzying, frequently bawdy theatrical designs (just because it's a puppet show does not mean it's appropriate for all ages). Projection designer Daniel Brodie adds depth to the stage pictures with his vivid and constantly shifting scenes, assisted by lighting designer Ayumu "Poe" Saegusa.
Twist is the third generation of his family to work with puppets. One striking element of this productionfour elegantly hand-carved puppets depicting Big Band musicians, billed as "The Dream Music Orchestra"originally belonged to his maternal grandmother, a bandleader who also did some puppetry.
Arias' costume by designer Manfred Thierry Mugler add to the whole outré feel of this enterprise: it begins with a nude bodysuit with black dominatrix-like overlays and eventually incorporates a slinky evening gown.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company