The five men and women in Ethan Lipton’s Red-Handed Otter work late-night shifts as security guards in an office building, which means they watch nothing happen on two dozen video screens at a time. In this losers’ lounge of isolated stasis, they pass time though idle conversation, hobbies (music, knitting) and occasional intra-staff romance. As the play begins, Paul (Matt Maher) is despairing over the death of his cat, Jennifer, whom his ex-girlfriend Angela (Rebecca Henderson) unironically calls “the love of his life.” Donald (Bobby Moreno), now dating Angela himself, tries to cheer Paul up—but he is younger than the others, and not yet hip to the web of pets and peeves he stumbles into.
Lipton’s slight, piquant comedy is not afraid to take its time as it ambles through a maze of awkward small talk, oblique revelations and displaced emotion. In Mike Donahue’s wryly low-key production, the first-class actors—the cast also includes Gibson Frazier and Quincy Tyler Bernstine—often leave Lipton’s well-chosen words to twist in the wind, exposing nuanced dynamics of guilt, obligation, resentment and control. This style does have drawbacks; small errors in tone, when the writing gets too writerly or the acting too actorish, are more noticeable when set in such naturalistic relief. (The play’s two moments of sudden dramatic action seem a little forced.) But Red-Handed Otter’s human weirdness lingers pleasurably after the show, as you puzzle out the clues that Lipton offers to his characters’ worlds of guarded insecurities.—Adam Feldman
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