Husband-wife duo Michael Satow and Eleanor Handley don’t have to ask at the dinner table how each other’s day was. They already know.
Over the past few weeks, the two have been practically inseparable, learning lines and munching on pizza during breaks at Bristol Riverside Theatre, all in preparation of its upcoming production On Golden Pond.
This is the second time the couple has been cast as (you guessed it) a couple in a BRT show. Previously appearing in last season’s Time Stands Still, Handley and Satow are now starring as Chelsea Thayer and Charlie Martin in the heartwarming play by Ernest Thompson about love, reconnection and family, which hits the stage Thursday, Jan. 24.
On a recent Wednesday evening in the midst of rehearsals, The Times sat down with the pair, who shared details on their unique love story, the benefits of working with a significant other, and how they manage to raise a 1-year-old daughter with their jam-packed schedules.
Though this is only their second opportunity to work together in Bristol, Handley and Satow are no strangers to sharing the stage. In fact, theater is what united them in the first place. It was 2012, and the two strangers were getting settled at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota, where they would be co-stars in the show Jericho.
Reflecting on their first impressions of one another, Handley and Satow had slightly different stories. Satow recalled walking into the house they and another cast member shared for the duration of the play, and seeing the breathtaking sight of the Australian Handley.
“She was standing in the dining room light and I thought, ‘oh god, three months. I’m in trouble,” he said.
For Handley, it wasn’t quite love at first sight.
“The very first time he came out of that house as my cab pulled up from the airport, he sort of bounded out and grabbed my bags. And I thought, ‘oh that’s nice, the intern,’” she said with an apologetic laugh.
When the Jericho cast went out for drinks that night, Handley quickly learned that Satow wasn’t there to receive college credit. He was playing her love interest. Though it took them some time to officially begin dating, both self-admitted “gypsies” while in Florida, Handley and Satow had a once-in-a-lifetime chemistry neither could ignore.
In 2015, they got married in New York’s West Village, and recently celebrated their third anniversary in the most romantic way possible — scarfing down mozzarella sticks and rum and cokes at a Manhattan dive pub. They also bought a television. But for the new mom and dad, whose daughter was under the watchful eyes of Satow’s parents for the evening, it was the perfect night out.
The two performed together over the years in several more plays, including Betrayal — a story about a seven-year affair. Still, they’ve found that shows such as this, ones that discuss the tough topics, help their relationship rather than hinder it.
“If only one of us was working on a play like that, that person would come home and kind of be crunching around these ideas, and the other person would be outside of that, and that would be even harder,” said Satow. “But we both are in this same room, both going through the same thing. So we get home and it’s a decompress for both of us.”
In their opinions, the benefits of working on stage with a significant other largely outweigh any challenges.
“The best part about it is the built-in level of trust. When you walk into a situation like this, you usually have 2–3 weeks, especially if you’re playing a family who are close, and you have to build this trust, intimacy and history,” said Satow.
Mere weeks into rehearsals for On Golden Pond, he and Handley have already delved deeply into the relationship between their characters. Chelsea, the daughter Norman Thayer Jr. (played by BRT artistic director Keith Baker), returns to her childhood home after eight years. Post-divorce, she encounters mailman Charlie, her former on again, off again summertime boyfriend, whom she also lost touch with.
Between late-night rehearsals and almost daily performances, one key question comes to mind — how can they balance such a hectic schedule while raising a baby?
“It takes a very special theater to help you make it work,” said Handley about BRT. “We call it our artistic home because they just keep inviting us back in a very warm and appreciated way.”
The theater connected her and Satow with Denise Smith, a volunteer with its summer program ArtRageous, who is nannying for them.
“She understands the unusual schedule that just doesn’t work with normal daycare, because here we are at 7 o’clock at night,” Handley said. “We look forward to coming here. It’s easier than our everyday lives. It’s like a vacation.”
On Jan. 24, the long hours spent away from their daughter will pay off when On Golden Pond celebrates its opening night. Not only are Handley and Satow thrilled to share the stage with each other, they’re honored to stand beside Baker.
“As an actor, it’s a real privilege to get opposite him because he’s quite the force,” Handley said. “But I think as an audience member, he and the rest of the play is beautifully cast, so it’s a good chance to see the story told very well.” ••
If you go…
Opening night of On Golden Pond will take place Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. The show will run until Sunday, Feb. 10. Tickets start at $33 with discounts available for students, groups and military personnel.
Tickets are available by visiting brtstage.org, calling 215–785–0100, or visiting the box office at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com