Review “Red Handed Otter” (A Red Orchid): Pet Smart

Mierka-Girten-Bob-Kruse-Luce-Metrius-Ashely-Neil-Guy-Van-Swearingen-980x600A Red Orchid Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of RED HANDED OTTER.

The notion that people resemble their pets has always struck me as funny.  Does a person select a pet with similar features?  Or over time does the person start to mimic the pet in looks and gestures?  I’m not certain what happens but I’ve seen the weird physical similarity between owners and pets. 

Playwright Ethan Lipton takes the owner and pet bonding below the surface.  Lipton explores the connection between how a person cares for a pet and how a person loves another person.  He sets his pet/human relationship analysis within the subculture of security guards. From their basement ‘watchtower’, the security crew vigilantly waits for something to happen.  While they view life from the narrow parameters of the camera footage, they simultaneously look to each other to fill voids and build community.       

When the play starts, Guy Van Swearingen (Paul) is mourning the loss of Jennifer and Angela.   Jennifer was his 17 year old cat.  Angela (played by the perky Ashley Neal) was his girlfriend for a year.  Although Jennifer is dead, Angela has just changed her security detail.  Neal and Luce Metrius (Donald) are now dating.  Complications and hilarity arise because Van Swearingen and Metrius are work buddies.  The vivacious Metrius wants to cheer Van Swearingen up.  From the get-go, Van Swearingen plays it perfect as an unconsolable curmudgeon.  But the charismatic Metrius refuses to be dissuaded.  He hosts a dead-cat-sympathy party with Twinkies, Strohs, Smirnoffs and Donna Summer.        

Lipton uses pet stories to tell us about his characters.  As we listen to the antics of a cat, otter, hermit crab and bunny, we hear the origin stories of the future romantic relationships.  It’s clever and charming.  And under the direction of Dado, it’s hilarious!  The relationships don’t so much unfold as happen by osmosis.  People cooped up in a basement make the best with the resources available.  This relational truth is profound and funny.  And we get to experience security guard love in the making as the lonely Mierka Girten (Estelle) becomes more direct in her insinuations to a stilted Bob Kruse (Randy).  Their comedy timing is awkwardly brilliant.      

Lipton’s pet love stories combined with his offbeat, lovable characters makes RED HANDED OTTER a sure thing!  Although it’s more com than rom, the ending will still leave you believing in the power of  relationships… with a pet.  Long after the curtain, I continued to contemplate the long-term benefits of getting a hermit crab.       

Running Time:  Ninety minutes with no intermission

At A Red Orchid, 1531 N. Wells

Written by Ethan Lipton

Directed by Dado

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm

Thru May 24th

Buy Tickets at

For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago. 


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