A Host of People creates historically rooted theater for the modern age

arts / Article

The latest from theater company A Host of People.

The performance is staged in a residential property on W. Grand Blvd.

The performance is being staged in a residential property on W. Grand Blvd.

“The Modern Woman,” the latest piece of cutting-edge theater by the Detroit troupe A Host of People, is enjoying an all-too-short run this week, with shows continuing through the weekend that are not to be missed. “The Modern Woman” is an ambitious theater piece that stages 10 discrete movements in 10 rooms of a house on West Grand Boulevard, each room housing a decade and occupied by an influential female artist of that decade.

Molly McMahon as Emmy Hennings.

Molly McMahon as Emmy Hennings.

Tori Lynn Ashford as Josephine Baker (who shared the spotlight of the 1920s with Djuna Barnes).

Tori Lynn Ashford as Josephine Baker (who shared the spotlight of the 1920s with Djuna Barnes).

Not intended as a broad survey of women in the arts, "The Modern Woman" rather focuses on a single (or in a few cases, multiple) women in the context of their era, bringing to light some astoundingly impactful artists that have remained just outside the more recognized canon of female artists.

Some of the benefits of being a woman in the arts, detailed in the Joan Jonas performance.

Some of the advantages of being a woman in the arts, satirically detailed in the Joan Jonas performance.

Here in the "Present Day," a performance piece by Samantha Mattmaker (right) and Corinne Donly (left).

Here in the "Present Day," a performance piece by Samantha Moltmaker (right) and Corinne Donly (left).

These range from Emmy Hennings, whose Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich was a lynchpin in the burgeoning Dadaist scene of the 1910s, to Djuna Barnes in the '20s. Ryan Myers Johnson and Kristi Faulkner based their jaw-dropping 1930s performance on Mary Wigman and Katherine Dunham's “ritualistic” dance/movement pieces. The production also pays homage to 1940s figure Maya Deren, and there is a deeply resonant bilingual invocation of Chavela Vargas as the spirit of the 1950s by company member Karilu Forshee. "The Modern Woman" also invokes a host of 1960s figures, including Yoko Ono, Yvonne Rainer and Phyllis Diller, while actress Eleni T. Zaharopoulos offers a hysterically deadpan reenactment of a 1970s performance piece by Martha Rosler.  For the 1980s, the play pays tribute to Joan Jonas, and examines the '90s through a look at Kathleen Hanna and the Riot Grrrls. Adrian Piper is the highlighted character for the 2000s, and there's a scene set in the present day performed by actresses Samantha Moltmaker and Corinne Donly to round out the show.

Eleni T. Zaharopoulos had the only straight face in the room during her rendition of Martha Rosler&squot;s "Semiotics of the Kitchen."

Eleni T. Zaharopoulos had the only straight face in the room during her rendition of Martha Rosler's "Semiotics of the Kitchen."

Samantha Mattmaker as Joan Jonas.

Samantha Moltmaker as Joan Jonas.

The sheer scope and logistics of the show are staggering, with the audience divided into two groups that travel through the house from installation to installation. Throughout our tour forward in time, we could hear the echoing sounds of the other group, traveling backwards through the decades. The media reflected the ambitious reach of A Host of People, with song, dance, performance art, video installations and recorded and live lectures that kept things fresh at every turn—even the show’s playbook is rendered in 'zine form and distributed during the Riot Grrrl performance.

Riot Grrrls in the midst of the world's greatest slumber party.

Riot Grrrls in the midst of the world's greatest slumber party.

Marisa Dluge as Maya Deren.

Marisa Dluge as Maya Deren.

The 1960s recreated in a montage of dance, free jazz, performance art, spoken word.

The 1960s recreated in a montage of dance, free jazz, performance art, spoken word.

Truly, A Host of People co-directors Sherrine Azab and Jake Hooker continue to raise the level of avant garde theater in Detroit, and everyone in the multitudinous cast and contributor pool is due much respect for a riveting performance.

"The Modern Woman" will conclude its 10-day run this weekend, with performances scheduled at 7:30 p.m. on March 6, 7 and 8 at Home Base, 256 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Visit www.ahostofpeople.org for tickets.

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