theater (reviews)

review: red-handed otter

Red-Handed Otter

by Ethan Lipton
Directed by Mike Donahue

Featuring Rebecca Henderson, Matthew Maher, Bobby Moreno
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
September 20, 2012 (opening) — October 6, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 21, 2012

  • “Dawn Upshaw will stab you in the fucking heart.” (Paul)
  • “I mean, if I had to pick one thing that Paul knows how to manage incredibly well, I’d pick depression. Rage and hygiene? Not so much. But depression? For Paul? That’s like mustard to a hot dog.” (Angela)
  • “See, that’s the trouble with being right. It turns you into the angry one. And nobody likes a self-righteous rabbit.” (Paul)

(L-R) Matthew Maher, Bobby Moreno. Image provided by Bruce Cohen Group.

Animal stories permeate Red-Handed Otter, a charming new work-place dramedy by Ethan Lipton playing at the Cherry Lane, as laugh lines, points of familiarity, and gentle human connection. In scenes bounded by well-chosen music of many genres (sound design by Jill BC Du Boff), romances are thwarted, ongoing, and ending; career paths begin; frustrations are expressed verbally and physically; and all of our three men and two women who work the night security shift at an unnamed facility wear the regulation grey slacks, blue blazers, white shirts, blue ties at some point in the action. Whether one has ever had a pet (otter or cat or fish or rabbit or inanimate object) gives us emotional context for each of our characters, and ammunition for some to strike out at others.

Stalwart performances all around by familiar Off-Broadway faces. Matthew Maher is Paul, who has deep knowledge of many musical genres, and who shares that with workmate Don (Bobby Moreno). These two men also share past and present relationships with funny and bored colleague Angela (Rebecca Henderson).  Quincy Tyler Bernstine‘s Estelle has relatives rather than pets growing up, yet gives a surprisingly revealing and moving description of a dysfunctional relationship she once had with a malfunctioning smoke detector.  Randy (Gibson Frazier) is frazzled and testy, and softens as we grow to know him. We spend some time believably uncovering back story, and watch relationships begin and end, with laughter and tears. You know — dramedy.  Andrew Boyce’s scenic design frames most of our action in the security operations center complete with functional security cameras that remain essentially unchanged focused on dark empty anonymous office building hallways, and gives us a visceral understanding of the stultifying boredom of these essentially inactive jobs and underscores the charm and layers of Lipton’s characters.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 26, 2012)

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