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Recap: Woolly Mammoth’s Arias with a Twist

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This season of shows at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre—the Bitches’ favorite—has been one of highs and lows. It’s been inconsistent, that’s for sure, yet follows the theme of tackling difficult, in-your-face topics that are typically excluded from appropriate cocktail conversation.

First, recession, religious fanaticism and cults in A Bright New Boise. Then, the end of the world (2012 Mayan calendar style) with Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies. Most recently, over-consumption and animal welfare in Civilization: All You Can Eat (naturally, I found this one interesting and thought-provoking. But, when the pig started talking, it lost all legitimacy).

And, with Arias with a Twist, we have less-complicated but equally controversial topics of sex, sodomy and aliens. First, the obligatory Wizard of Oz omnipresent narrator comes on, warning you something or other about danger and keeping it in your pants (seriously). Then, the play begins with five colorful curtains dropping—leaving the crowd in nervous giggles and anticipation—to reveal Arias, a drag queen performer, our protagonist for the evening.

Basil Twist and Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist. Photo by Steven Menendez

Arias is singing and being probed by aliens who recently abducted her (no big deal). Then, Arias is in the jungle. Then, in New York. Then, in hell with dancing devils. She sings a lot. She sashays around in her pseudo-feminity. Her man parts, I assume but try not to wonder, are tucked within her very revealing ensemble.

Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist. Photo by Steven Menendez

Did I mention there are puppets? An old-school style jazz band of puppets, no less. Puppeted by master puppeteer Basil Twist (hence the name of the show).

Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist. Photo by Steven Menendez

The play is visually resplendent. The staging, effects, costumes, props, all visually alluring and engaging. There are moving jungle creatures, bright psychedelic lights, and space ships wiggling over your head. Aliens, enormous red devils, and other feasts for the eyes. At one point, Arias has grown to the size of Godzilla and is seen trampling over Manhattan, devouring taxi cabs and tossing subway trains by the wayside.

Joey Arias in Arias with a Twist. Photo by Steven Menendez

The play is visually excellent. I assume it would be even more so if you had engaged in illicit drugs beforehand.

I take issue not with the overtly crude sexual references and displays—theater, after all, should take you out of your comfort zone—but with the entire lack of plot, character development and well-scripted writing. As a writer, I like a good story (don’t you?) and I have come to expect good writing in the plays I attend.

There was simply no story—albeit not an interesting one. Also, the jokes were just plain bad. I was squirming in my seat out of sheer boredom, not because of the sexually explicit scenes, though they are bound to make many squeamish.

In sum, if you like drag shows, head straight over to Woolly Mammoth Theatre and see Arias with a Twist. If you prefer a play with a plot, script and character development, do not.

Disclaimer: Journalistic research, i.e. reading the program, tells me that Joey Arias, the star of the show, is a renowned drag diva, having begun her career in the 1980s in New York’s underground art scene before appearing in multiple plays, television shows and films, including Cirque du Soleil, Saturday Night Live, Elvira and more.

Arias with a Twist is playing through May 6.

Woolly Mammoth Theater
641 D Street NW
Washington, D.C.
(202) 393-3939

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