Basil Twist performing at Mattachine party at Julius /
A figure floated above a transfixed crowd last night at Julius's monthly Mattachine party. Puppeteer extraordinaire Basil Twist expertly manipulated a small, long-limbed wooden puppet into graceful jetes in time to Debussy's "Claire de Lune," while Joey Arias's voice purred through the speakers, explaining how happy it makes his "daddy" to lick cherry ice cream off Joey's shiny leather boots. This was, obviously, not your average gay party.
Basil Twist stopped by to promote the revival of the phantasmagoric extravaganza Arias with a Twist, in which drag icon Joey Arias (who we honored back in 2008 during the original run), clad in an impressive but painful-looking Mugler corset, cavorts with Twist's outrageous cast of puppets, from probing aliens to horny satanic demons to a disembodied kick line of can-can legs.
Mattachine seemed like the perfect spot for a bit of fun. A monthly party hosted by director John Cameron Mitchell and performer Amber Martin, it's intended as a throwback to the gritty, non-conformist gay bars of yesteryear. Named for the famous pre-Stonewall gay rights group, Mattachine regularly attracts such queer luminaries as musicians Justin Bond, Michael Stipe, and Jake Shears, writer Michael Cunningham and actor Alan Cumming. The legendary party has just returned from a national tour to return to its West Village home at Julius, a former speakeasy, and the oldest gay bar in New York.
By 11pm, queer revelers of all shades, genders and ages were overflowing onto the sidewalk, where cute, flannel clad hipsters chatted with handsome fifty somethings over a cigarette. Inside, the hilarious Amber Martin and Angela DiCarlo kept the sweaty throngs dancing, effortlessly moving from sexy Studio 54 disco to swooning soul ballads to 70's cock rock.
I asked Twist why the duo decided to revive the popular production.
"Joey and I were talking to people who said, 'Oh my god- bring the show back!' " said Twist. " 'Or I'm so sorry I never saw it!' So we thought, Let's do it again." His favorite part? "I like when Joey sprouts octopus tentacles." Twist says there are some new surprises for old fans of the show, including one that involves a bejeweled, er, part of the body.
By 3 a.m., the crowd was thinning out to a few Mattachine regulars. Amber Martin put on a slow country ballad, and the people on the dance floor paired off to slow dance, gazing into each other's eyes and swaying gently. It was a lovely, romantic moment- like a queer high school prom. The gym clones haven't taken over- queer culture in New York City can still be risky, exciting, inventive, and even sweet, if you know where to look.
Arias with a Twistcontinues its run through October 14 at the Abrons Arts Center. For more images from the show, click here.