Arias With a Twist is a trippy, mesmerizing visual feast. This collaboration between renowned drag diva Joey Arias and visionary puppet artist Basil Twist — currently playing HERE Arts Center — is full of imagery that is saucy, clever, and oftentimes simply stunning.
The very loose narrative that the show follows has Arias abducted and probed by aliens, then dumped in a verdant jungle where she eats a mushroom that sends her on a psychedelic journey. Eventually, she ends up in New York City where she towers over the buildings and winds up singing at a nightclub. But any semblance of a story is merely an excuse for Twist to create one spectacular design after another. His elaborate stage environments are brought to life by a hard-working troupe of six puppeteers — Oliver Dalzell, Randy Ginsburg, Kirsten Kammermeyer, Matt Leabo, Jessica Schott, and Lindsay Abromaitis Smith.
While there are puppets involved, this isn’t a show for the kiddies. A scene set in hell with anatomically correct male demons is decidedly not family-friendly, particularly once Arias gets on her knees to service them. However, it’s all campy, not-so-clean fun that is so over the top that most adults will be laughing rather than being shocked by the explicit sexuality.
Arias’ vocal stylings within the show range from hard-driving rock to breathy ballads. Highlights include “Garden of Eden,” composed by Alex Gifford, a cover of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and the jazzy “You’ve Changed,” in which Arias sounds remarkably like Jimmy Scott. The pre-recorded music is often blasted so loudly that its difficult to understand all of the lyrics in some of the songs, but Arias performs with gusto, striking provocative poses while dressed in bodily-distorting outfits (conceived by Thierry Mugler, and executed by former Project Runway contestant Chris March).
Daniel Brodie’s video design is another crucial part of the show, particularly during Arias’ psychedelic headtrip. Ayuma “Poe” Saegusa’s lighting also nicely complements the piece. Still, in the end, it’s Twist’s fabulous designs that are the most thrilling component of the performance.