Catch enough downtown theater and performance art, and sooner or later you'll get desensitized to ribald, transgressive on-stage behavior. A fully naked burlesque performer urinating in a plastic cup and then balancing it on her head before (seemingly?) drinking it won't make you bat an eye; a courtly man in an expensive suit unscrewing a light bulb and eating it is just another Tuesday night in the Village. But in his newly updated extravaganza Arias with a Twist, drag queen extraordinaire Joey Arias makes even the most jaded experimental theatergoer's jaw drop. I've seen a lot of crazy stuff, but I never expected to witness a six-foot-tall drag queen get sodomized by a couple of giant anatomically-correct demon puppets.
Suffice it to say, we're not in Fraggle Rock anymore, Toto. This isn't for kids, and it's probably not a show to take most parents to—unless your parents are loose enough to see the humor in a corseted drag queen getting molested by alien puppets equipped with a "jumbo-size probe." ("This human female is unusual," they marvel.) That's how Arias begins his daffy spectacle: spread eagle in the Mother Ship wearing an insanely tightened corset and skimpy black lingerie, singing along to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" as his alien abductors study him in amazement. "The story was quite clear," Arias belts, but he's not referring to the show you're about to behold. There isn't much here in the way of narrative, but these episodic drag-and-puppet vignettes are so sumptuous it doesn't matter much.
As in the original 2008 production, Arias's collaborator is the inimitable Basil Twist, whose puppetry has repeatedly transcended the genre, most notably with his underwater puppet show, Symphonie Fantastique. Their "deluxe" reboot of the original Arias with a Twist is often arresting—I couldn't quite tell whether I was looking at a real piano player or a marionette when Arias's band first appeared in the darkness, and the simple psychedlic lighting effects go a long way toward transporting the audience into the technicolor world of Arias's gay fantasia.
Thanks to Twist's inspired aesthetic contributions, Arias achieves a sort of apotheosis of drag, reaching a level of professional artistry that must make many in his field eat their hearts out. And unlike some drag queens, the he isn't afraid to be upstaged by Twist—though he does slyly stomp through a dazzling recreation of the New York City skyline, like a glam Godzilla clomping clumsily over to Lucky Cheng's. When the whole weird pageant culminates with a breathtaking Busby Berkeley-esque finale, replete with a dozen high-kicking puppet legs and a ceiling mirror, Arias proves once and for all that not only is he "unusual," he's also unforgettable.
Arias with a Twist continues through October 15th, tickets here.