Red Handed Otter

Theater, Comedy
3 out of 5 stars
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
Photograph: Michael BrosilowLuce Metrius and Guy Van Swearingen in Red Handed Otter at A Red Orchid Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
Photograph: Michael BrosilowAshley Neal, Luce Metrius, Bob Kruse and Guy Van Swearingen in Red Handed Otter at A Red Orchid Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
Photograph: Michael BrosilowMierka Girten, Bob Kruse, Luce Metrius, Ashley Neal and Guy Van Swearingen in Red Handed Otter at A Red Orchid Theatre
 (Photograph: Michael Brosilow)
Photograph: Michael BrosilowLuce Metrius and Ashley Neal in Red Handed Otter at A Red Orchid Theatre

Animal lovers of all stripes bare their pet peeves in Ethan Lipton's off-kilter workplace comedy.

At the top of this quirky comedy by Ethan Lipton, security guard Paul (Guy Van Swearingen) is introducing a colleague to Polish composer Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 as recorded by one of the 20th century’s great sopranos. “Be careful,” Paul ruefully warns fellow guard Donald (Luce Metrius). “Dawn Upshaw will stab you in the fucking heart.”

Paul’s hyperbolic behavior shows he’s nursing a wounded heart of his own—turns out their coworker Angela (Ashley Neal), who’s Donald’s new girlfriend, was until recently dating Paul. But the real twist of the knife came when Paul recently found Jennifer, his feline companion of 17 years, had given up the ghost. No wonder the guy’s inconsolable.

Lipton’s Luther, seen here at Steep Theatre in 2012, imagined a world in which traumatized, infantilized military veterans are taken in by affluent families as pets. Red Handed Otter, which premiered in New York that same year, in turn examines how the ways we relate to actual other species can translate to our human relationships. Donald describes his childhood stewardship of the titular river mammal, and his attempts to nurture “a more open, more relaxed otter” by way of deep-tissue massage.

Angela recalls a well-meaning but unfortunate incident of rabbit husbandry from her own youth; another coworker, the lumbering Randy (Bob Kruse) opines about the hermit crab, “the perfect combination of a wet and dry pet.” When Estelle (Mierka Girten) admits, at a makeshift party aimed at cheering Paul up, that she’s never owned a pet, the rest of the group turns on her like she’s casually owned up to a hobby of choking babies.

Lipton’s heightened reality, and the overweening innocence of most of his characters, can seem to spin in circles; as pet comparisons go, it most resembles the shaggy dog. But Dado’s staging for A Red Orchid, with deeply odd, lived-in performances by a committed cast, milks the premise for all its comic worth.

A Red Orchid Theatre. By Ethan Lipton. Directed by Dado. With Guy Van Swearingen, Luce Metrius, Mierka Girten, Ashley Neal, Bob Kruse. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.


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