Gone to stay
When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?
First introduced to the public in 1973 by playwright Mark Medoff, When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? is a thrilling, sometimes bumpy, sometimes violent narrative of the American experience from the post-War 1950s through the social upheaval and our “loss of innocence” of the late 1960s and the Vietnam era.
Diner night cook and 1950s holdover slacker, Stephen, also known as “Red” Ryder, (played by Jeremy Zutter), is a Fonzie look-alike who’s fed up with the dullness of his town. He thinks there’s nothing left for him but relocation, and in exchange, he’s turned cynical in his ways.
The play takes place at a hole-in-the-wall diner in a highway exit of a town lost somewhere in New Mexico, where Stephen works. The story both begins and ends with the focus on Angel, the daytime waitress at the diner, played by Michelle Calhoun-Fitts.
A skuzzy hippie couple is traveling through town on their way to New Mexico in an old and almost broken-down VW bus that’s stocked full of marijuana. The woman, Cheryl, played by Jolene Perretta, is just the kind of peacenik you’d expect a hippie from the ‘60s to be. Teddy is not. Played by Jason Macy, Teddy is a gun-toting flower child in steel-toed boots, a Vietnam veteran who tries to wreck shop on everybody and anybody who dares to cross his path.
All eight of the cast members involved in When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? are experienced and very believable in their onstage portrayals.
Lyle, played by Patrick Hardy, is an old man who owns the next-door filling station. He’s a friendly guy whose kind demeanor makes him a constant target of people out to take advantage of everyone they can and who want to get ahead no matter whose hands they have to step on; crass folks, like yuppies Clarisse (Micha Marie Stevens) and her husband, played by Peter L. Coatis.
When I first sat down, I felt as though I was watching an old movie instead of actually viewing a play. The banter between Stephen and Angel seems to drag on and I found myself wondering, “Is something ever going to happen?” And when it eventually does, part of me found myself wishing that it hadn’t.
The storyline of When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? is a definite thought-provoker, while at the same time, it’s amazing to think how much we as a society have changed since the Vietnam War, both good and bad. And when you see Clarisse finally get up and stand her ground to both her husband and the ever-so-awful Teddy, all you can do is smile and feel proud for her.
The basic message of Red Ryder is that life isn’t as bad as we sometimes think it is, and our vision of how bad or “off” things are is quite tainted—we have to remember that there is always a bigger picture.
Whether you lived through the time period or read about it in history class, When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? is, much like the food at the diner it takes place in, not always the easiest fare to digest.