Review: Ghost Rings (Luminato)

Ghost Rings, part of the Luminato Festival in Toronto, is “whimsical” and “wonderfully wild”

David Pecault Square is home to the Famous Spiegeltent for Luminato, serving as the venue for performances including Ghost Rings, from NYC company Half Straddle. Ghost Rings is a pop-punk experimental musical about girls who are close when they are young, but grow estranged as they become adults.

Playwright, director and performer Tina Satter begins the show by stating that the play is about her sister. We don’t find out much more about the sister, other than the two had a play band when they were kids, and now that they are grown sometimes she shows up to use Satter’s wifi.

Instead Satter offers us a story about two best friends, Samantha and Shauna (Erin Markey and Kristen Sieh, respectively.) Samantha and Shauna mostly interact via puppets: Samantha helms a seal while Shauna manipulates a deer. Via these avatars, which are are cringingly referred to as “spirit animals”, they ask each other personal questions about topics such as masturbation.

Other than this disrespectful take on First Nations culture, the friends communicate with each other, and the audience, primarily through song. Their vocals are supported by Satter on drums and Chris Giarmo on keyboard, although those two do switch briefly, and Giarmo also offers backup vocals. The music is quite good: high energy and whimsical, with harmonies that take us on a soaring roller coaster ride from beautiful to creepy to manic.

The two characters do have a couple of dialogue conversations about Shauna’s pregnancy, wherein she claims to have made Samantha the other parent of her fetus by “setting an intention.” It doesn’t make sense, but neither does much else. I kept listening to the lyrics of the songs intently, hoping for some clue that the show had some semblance of a narrative. I didn’t find any, but it was very evocative in terms of melancholic mood. As my companion put it, the show was incomprehensible but “saturated with a deep sense of loss and disconnection.”

While it is incoherent, not only is the music good, but the design is wonderfully wild. The costumes are arrayed in weird layers infested with glitter. I might not have any idea why Shauna begins in pajama shorts and then sheds them, later donning a bowling jacket, but it was interesting to watch, at least. Similarly, the animal puppets were visually appealing, and I might have enjoyed them if they were more appropriately named.

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Photo of Erin Markey and Kristen Sieh by Maria Baranova

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