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Distaff Meeting

In homage to a half-dozen of the most formidable women in the history of 20th-century art, a half-dozen of the Phoenix area's more formidable performing artists and arts educators will assume their personas for an unusual interactive performance-art role-playing piece titled "Women Who Do!"

Confused? Okay, it works like this. Arizona State University and Maricopa Community Colleges dance instructor Jo Ann Yeoman asked six women from the Valley arts community to pick a famous figure from this century's art world. Each did so, and prepared a presentation intended to bring their characters (all of whom are departed) back to life. The evening, scheduled for Monday at ASU West, is produced in connection with the residency of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and its Life After project. It will presumably include both performances and monologues, as well as improvised answers to audience questions.

There can be little doubt that all this has the potential to be excruciating. But what the heck, it's free; and it's on a Monday. And you never know, it might prove interesting. The actresses and the women they chose to play are:

* Toni-Marie Montgomery, director and associate producer at the ASU Main Campus School of Music, will play contralto Marian Anderson (1897-1993), the Philadelphia native who became a concert star in the '30s, and who broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955, becoming the institution's first black singer.

* Chris Ferguson, a teacher of writing, journalism and English at Scottsdale Community College, assays the role of Margaret Bourke-White (1906-1971), the Time-Life photojournalist who famously covered both WWII and the Korean War and perhaps even more famously photographed the Mahatma Gandhi. This part was already played by Candice Bergen, in the 1982 film Gandhi.

* Kathleen Conry, described as a "singer, dancer, actress, choreographer, director and teacher with two Broadway shows to her credit," takes on the role of Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), the barefoot ballet and modern-dance goddess who met a tragic end in a freak accident.

* Bonnie J. Eckard, professor and chair of the department of theater at ASU Main Campus, is scheduled to impersonate Colleen Dewhurst (1926-1991), a hockey player's daughter who became one of the most imposing of postwar American stage actresses, racking up Tonys and Obies as well as film and television credits, and two marriages to (and two divorces from) George C. Scott. She also served as the president of Equity.

* Linda Knoblock, a teacher of English and literature and the coordinator of the honors program at Paradise Valley Community College, plays Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), masterful painter of cityscapes and abstracts and black irises, discovery of and later wife to sculptor Alfred Stieglitz.

* Pam Fields, theater arts director at Scottsdale Community College, plays Alma Mahler (1879-1964). This may be the most piquant choice, as she is remembered less for any artistic accomplishment of her own than for her amours with heavy-hitting male artists. She was married to composer Gustav Mahler; to Bauhaus architect and teacher Walter Gropius, designer of the Pan Am Building in New York; and to Austrian novelist and dramatist Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette. This track record led to what may be her greatest distinction: The great wiseass Tom Lehrer wrote an admiring posthumous ballad about her, which closes with this example of Lehrer's inimitable style of rhyme:

So that is the story of Alma,
Who knew how to receive
and to give.
The body that reached her
Was one that had known how to live!
The same could truly be said of all of the subjects of this presentation.

--M. V. Moorhead

"Women Who Do!" is scheduled to be performed at 8 p.m. Monday, March 22, in Kiva Hall on the Arizona State University West campus, 4701 West Thunderbird. Admission is free. 543-2787.


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