Theater review: 'Arias with a Twist' at REDCAT
Dear Santa Baby, this Christmas all I want in my stocking is Joey Arias. My fishnet stocking, that is, because this drag chanteuse works black stilettos, thigh highs and an ever-present microphone like Eartha Kitt in overdrive. In “Arias with a Twist,” now at REDCAT, he teams with celebrated puppeteer Basil Twist in a fantasy cabaret with a ZIP Code nowhere near “Sesame Street.”
A cross-gender, cross-media extravaganza, “Arias” isn’t just mind-bending, it’s mind origami. Imagine a mix of Barney’s wittiest holiday windows, a play list for Judy Garland and a trippy planetarium show, and you’ll get an idea of this foxy, naughty and deliriously entertaining evening.
At REDCAT for an unusually long run, “Arias” should top the list of must-sees for adult Angelenos who want to get their holiday groove on. The California-born Arias recently starred as the Mistress of Seduction in the spectacular Cirque du Soleil “Zumanity” show in Las Vegas. Now the performer is working on a more diminutive scale — the “stage” is a small box and you’ll want to sit close — but there is nothing undersized about this wonderland of curiosities set to song.
After a tease with multiple curtains, the diva is revealed in all her glory. Arias’ entrance will surely rank as one of the most astounding moments in L.A. theater this year. As the REDCAT black box shakes to the music of Led Zeppelin, she appears strapped to an oscillating contraption, about to be probed by aliens. (A close encounter she’s clearly looking forward to.)
Working Thierry Manfred Mugler’s eye-popping lingerie, Arias channels Bettie Page and “Fifth Element” sci-fi camp to create an irresistible creature who is both utterly artificial and absolutely genuine. As Agrado, the cheerful transvestite from Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother” put it: “You are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being.”
Twist, who basically reinvented American puppetry with an aquarium and a few strips of cellophane in his sublime “Symphonie Fantastique,” never met an object he couldn’t animate. Here, Arias’ costars are a miniature swing band, Venus fly traps, and skyscrapers, brought to droll life by an expert team of puppeteers. The visual dazzle is amped up by Ayuma “Poe” Saegusa’s freaky lighting effects. After Arias takes a bite of a sequined mushroom and breaks into “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” spotlights pulse and explode into dripping nebulae. I’ll have what she’s having.
Our dizzy sex kitten tries to find her way to downtown Manhattan in time for her cabaret show, but gets lost along the way to the tunes of “You’ve Changed” and “All By Myself.” (Yes, the one by Eric Carmen.) Her alien abduction seems to have resulted in a few genetic mutations, and one wonderfully silly sequence pays homage to “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”
The second half of the show shifts into something almost sedate. But just as you need a little Twist, “Arias” closes with a fabulous puppet that would make Busby Berkeley weep with joy. The rest of us will be pretty jazzed to trip the wackily fantastic with two artists at the top of their game.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
“Arias with a Twist” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Added performance Tuesday, Nov. 24, dark Thursday, Nov. 26. Ends Dec. 13. $28-$40. Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org. Running time: 85 minutes.
Photo: Joey Arias in "Arias with a Twist." Credit: Steven Menendez.