Tina Satter/Half Straddle
Abrons Arts Center, Playhouse
466 Grand Street
A neon outline of a ghost and a heart hangs above the audience of Tina Satter/Half Straddle’s Ghost Rings, being remounted in Abrons Arts Center’s Playhouse for American Realness. This mix of pop art and whimsy sets up what is to follow: a pop song cycle about sisters growing apart and female friendships growing into something more. The show starts with a dramatic opening of the stage curtain to reveal writer-director Satter flanked by performer-composer Erin Markey and performer Kristen Sieh, each at mic stands, and backed by performer-composer Chris Giarmo at a keyboard. A drum set sits empty upstage as well, which Satter later fills. She learned to play drums for this show, she explains, which follows in the line of shows she’s been making for eight years about women and about her sister.
We get bits of stories throughout the sixty-minute piece about Satter and her sister, who were once very close. The stories are intimate and specific: about her and her sister forming a band in which they played wooden blocks and sang about alley cats, about her and her sister’s plan to live in corner apartments in the same building in a big city and have daughters around the same time who would grow up to be best friends. But the greater context remains a mystery: where is her sister now, do they remain estranged, is she–and is Tina, for that matter–okay? The questions draw us in, make us listen closer.
There’s much else to listen to. Sieh and Markey play Shawna and Samantha, young female friends starting to explore their sexuality with each other. This exploration is aided by their spirit animals, a deer for Shawna and a seal for Samantha, represented by beautiful puppets that are masterfully puppeteered by Sieh and Markey. Has Sealy (the seal) ever masturbated, the deer asks at one point. Yeah. But has she orgasmed from it? Sealy is quieter about that.
Scenes with their spirit animals mix with gorgeously composed and sung songs, often with backup vocals by Giarmo. Markey’s and Sieh’s voices have the power to move on their own; together they’re pure magic. (Rockstar outfits by Enver Chakartash and lighting by Chris Kuhl help with the magic, too.) Their storyline, which includes discussions of pregnancy and motherhood and track practice, feels more abstract than the ones we get from Satter about her sister. But all speak of connection and loss and longing, the beauty but fragility of relationships no matter what form they take, and the rings that resonate off the ghosts of the ones we used to hold dearest.
Photo: Maria Baranova