Five security guards sit around, bullshit, knit, listen to music, do crosswords, and make out—really anything but watch the wall of screens in front of them, which doesn’t seem to matter, since nothing ever happens on them anyway. Actually, at one point, there is a B&E, but that takes place in between scenes. What is most important to Ethan Litpon, the author of the new play Red-Handed Otter, is not action so much as the emotional growth (or lack thereof) of this somewhat incestuous “family” of lonely people all working the same dead-end job.
Paul (Matthew Maher) has lost his longtime companion, a cat named Jennifer, and his buddy Donald (Bobby Moreno) tries to console him with the music of Donna Summer and his memories of a short-lived friendship with an otter named Dan. It probably doesn’t help that Don is dating Paul’s ex-girlfriend, Angela (Rebecca Henderson), who seems like the only one in the group who might be going places. Meanwhile, Estelle (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) nurses a painfully obvious attraction to Randy (Gibson Frazier) that somehow goes undetected by the rest of the gang. At one point—the closest she will come to a confession—she says, “I’ve never had a pet before, and I am ready to know what it’s like, to experience true companionship. And lord knows it isn’t gonna come from anywhere else.” The rest ignore her cry for help and instead dissolve into an uproar, with Randy crying, “What kind of a person would go their whole lives without loving an animal?” This is typical of the play: these are people whose communication and observation skills are almost non-existent, whose only way of articulating their feelings for each other is through (at least one too many) sublimated pet stories.
The result is something like theatrical mumblecore, complete with stammering dialogue, nervous laughter, and outwardly unemotional relationships. In the play’s best moment, after Randy and Estelle have finally started dating, she tells him that she would someday like children. “Yeah, alright,” he replies. “We can do that … What else?” The cast is quite good, especially Mr. Maher, whose Paul has the unenviable position of “being right” all the time, often at the expense of his own happiness—or, as he describes it, his heart has “been put through the meat grinder of life.” Still, Red-Handed Otter feels somewhat disposable. There is nothing new or surprising here. It doesn’t push any boundaries, it doesn’t challenge its audience or raise particularly interesting questions. It’s comfortable, funny, but ultimately forgettable.