At Bas Bleu, a comedy about being trapped in a dead-end job
Red-Handed Otter starts out as a comedy about a dead cat. But ultimately it’s about two friends trying to make sense of relationships between humans as well as animals.
The show opens on Donald (Brett Schreiber) and Paul (Jeffrey Bigger), two security guards listening to an opera from the confines of their office. Like many coworker friendships, it balances a healthy amount of awkwardness with genuine interpersonal connections. As their conversation about the opera unfolds, Paul reveals he is mourning the loss of his dear pet, Jennifer. Donald, a people pleaser first and foremost, tries to comfort his friend. They reminisce about Jennifer. Donald repeats stories he’s heard about her. Some of the stories about Jennifer that Donald repeats are not ones he heard from Paul. Rather, Donald heard about Jennifer from his current girlfriend and Paul’s ex, Angela (Kaitlin Kennedy).
Relatably, Paul does not enjoy hearing about his ex from her new boyfriend. Especially because the stories pertain to his life. The light of his life, Jennifer. But Donald persists, trying to comfort his friend Paul, despite the warnings of Angela and Paul’s unwillingness to be helped.
Each line in Red-Handed Otter is some sort of allegory and delivered with an almost manic energy. The passive-aggressive layering of conflict made it feel necessary to analyze every word. I found myself laughing, and cutting myself off so I could catch the next line, eager to hear what would happen next. As Paul, Jeffrey Bigger flips between explosive anger and a subdued sarcasm. He’s the perfect counterpart to Schreiber’s Don, who is goofy and sweet in a timid way.
As Donald tries to defuse the tension between Paul and Angela, he finds himself confronting his own problems in his relationship with her. Donald’s desperation to please the people in his life makes him ignorant to their needs. As the show goes on, Donald finds himself right where he began: accompanied by Paul, comfortable in his grouchy attitude.
Although the show takes place in a lofty, cold warehouse, the stage feels confined. It provides a tight space for the characters to be stuck in. Tigers, pacing around their cages. As the tension builds, they have nowhere to go to escape each other. Nowhere to confront reality. It’s easy to see how each character started this job, thinking they’d only be there for a while, then slowly succumbing to the monotony of being a security guard. The years slip by, and they let go of their dreams. Escaping would mean leaving what they know, leaving the comfort of the job and friendships.
As the characters face themselves, they ultimately must choose to continue on their path or break the cycle. The play also speaks to the nature of loss. As humans, we love, we lose, we grieve, we move on and find something new to love, we love again, etc. Whether that thing is a cat or a person, we spend our time loving it knowing that loss waits around the corner. Humans often outlast both cats and their intrapersonal relationships. Finding one that sticks is rare.
Red-Handed Otter is a show that sticks with its audience. Thoughts of cats and love and loss linger even now, as I write this. This is the second production I have seen at the Bas Blue, and both times I have walked out of the theater in a daze of emotions. And while this show is first and foremost a comedy, it left me wrestling with my own experiences with love and loss. In other words, exactly what good theatre is meant to do.