In Ancient Lives, the new piece from downtown ensemble Half Straddle, adolescence is a murky forest, haunted by echoes from the past.
Written and directed by Tina Satter — and now playing at the Kitchen — Ancient Lives is the story of a group of young women,
under the leadership of an eccentric teacher-guru, who venture into the woods to embark on a strange communal venture: half New Age coven, half media startup. (They broadcast consciousness-raising programming from a pirate TV channel.) But this is an ersatz forest, with a synth soundtrack, animal memes, pastel light shows, and live-feed video — and the gals dress like extras from a John Hughes movie. When the crew’s ingénue meets a feral nature dweller who dabbles in warlockery, mutinous romance threatens the collective enterprise.
Satter’s characters often speak in borrowed voices, channeling coming-of-age narratives both poetic and pop. The pastiche-y script samples the exploding repression of Miller’s
The Crucible, Mercutio’s hormone-fueled fantasias from Romeo and Juliet, and the acrid clique-speak of Heathers, among other sources. (The nice-girl-meets-scruffy-boy-and-rebels aspect of the story loosely follows the plot of that film.)
The cumulative effect is to portray adolescence as at once perennially raw and always overdetermined, plagued equally by powerful passions and worn-out tropes. And if Satter’s forest of signs sometimes appears dauntingly hermetic, it’s faithful to teenagehood’s fierce privacy. We each wander into that forbidding wilderness alone.