First produced almost 30 years ago, Mark Medoff's When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? is still as mischievous and menacing as it was back in 1973. The script is timeless in its exploration of fear and repression, with very few references that would date it. Medoff has crafted a slice-of-life drama that continues to hold up in this day and age of corporate theft and world terrorism.
Foster's Diner is situated in a New Mexico rest stop that doesn't serve as many customers as it once did, due to a new highway bypass. The employees of the eatery include restless cook Stephen (Phil Davoli), who prefers to be called by his nickname Red Ryder, mousy waitress Angel (Vickie Mishoulam), and their no-nonsense boss Clark (Sam Antar). Lyle (Tom Delaney), owner of the adjacent filling station, is the only one around to break the monotony with his cheery banter.
Today, however, the diner will see more action that it has in a long while. An upscale, reserved couple, Richard (Kevin Ward) and Clarisse (Kathryn Sanders), stops for breakfast while their expensive car gets filled with gas. Then a younger, wilder couple named Teddy (Senad Ramovic) and Cheryl (Nicole Brier) arrives, and that's when the sparks begin to fly. First the upscale couple's keys are missing, then Teddy attempts to solicit money from Richard and his wife. Drugs and guns soon enter the picture, and someone gets shot before the end of the first half.
In Act Two, Teddy pretty much harasses everybody in the place in a series of degrading games and commands. Once he leaves, the others try to regain their composure and get on with their normal lives. Teddy's brutal honesty does have one positive effect -- it motivates Stephen to say goodbye to New Mexico and follow his dream of moving out East.
In this current production, director Martin Riofrio purposely staged the action so that viewers would fall into snail's-pace rhythms of these characters' lives. When the play began, pauses were pregnant, and conversation was quiet and controlled. Riofrio then slowly built the momentum as each new character was introduced. He assembled a picture-perfect cast, led by the commanding and captivating Ramovic, who never faltered in showing the others just who was in charge. Each performer seized the moment to make an impression. Davoli appeared appropriately subdued and discontent, Mishoulam was sweet and sympathetic, Delaney displayed a gruff and gregarious nature, and Antar remained all business in his brief appearances. Sanders and Ward played well off each other as the unsatisfied older couple. Brier made a strong and sexy sidekick for Ramovic's ruthless rebel.
Everything shone in this production. The authentic restaurant set was designed by Kevin Ward, and Gippy Rosenberg kept the action well-lit throughout. Tabitha Ash also did a credible job with her costume choices.
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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac