Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Homecoming

July 05, 2008

Joey Arias
Photo : Sara Krulwich/NYT 2008

I’m in New York this weekend mostly for the Lincoln Center Festival’s presentation of Die Soldaten which promises to be a high-tech marvel complete with a mobile audience on its own set of train tracks. It seems fitting somehow that this maximalist cue has been picked up by the downtown crowd as well with the triumphant return of Joey Arias to New York in Arias with a Twist. This new 80-minute performance is a true-blue drag show in all of its vaudevillian glory, complete with songs, rambling narrative, and a grab bag of gags and otherwise. However, it is no ordinary drag show in that involves a huge array of elaborate and clever visual elements designed by master puppeteer Basil Twist.

Scene after scene is filled with inventive creations including a clique of anal-probing aliens, a living jungle wall, dancing chorus girls, the New York skyline, a back up jazz band, octopus arms, and several mini versions of Joey Arias himself. And there’s more. Arias is never alone on stage. There are six puppeteer assistance operating the many puppets but they are rarely seen. While this may not be high-tech, it is definitely wildly ambitious for a drag show.

Which I guess just goes to show that you can take the boy out of Cirque du Soleil but you can’t take the Cirque out of the boy. Make no mistake, despite all of the grabbing visual elements, this is Joey Arias’ show, and he is as witty and wonderful to hear as ever. Covering everything from Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” to Eric Carmen‘s “All By Myself” and more than a few things in between, Arias works his way through a kind-of story about his being abducted, then abandoned by aliens then later making a triumph return to the downtown arts scene after his stint in Vegas. He does with ease the kind of "autobiographic" comedy that Carrie Fischer and Joan Rivers have been trying to pull of in recent years with 10 times the ease and results. It’s a super fun show and it continues through the end of August at the Here Arts Center downtown.

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