Where are our heroes when we need them the most?
This question is prominent in Mark Medoff’s Obie Award-winning play “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?”, which the School of Dramatic Arts will perform at the Scene Dock Theatre starting Friday.
First performed in 1973, the play is a tense drama that tells the story of a hostage situation inside of a New Mexico diner.
The play was conceived during a turbulent period in American history: the end of the Vietnam War. The cast and crew (consisting almost entirely of seniors at SDA) are eager to remind viewers that the play’s message of heroism and injustice is equally relevant in today’s political climate.
“The play does take place almost 30 years ago, but it’s a very similar sort of searching that people have now,” said Ian Stewart Riley, a senior who plays Teddy, a Vietnam War veteran turned drug smuggler.
The characters’ search for a savior in the face of physical threat and danger resembles the wider prevalence of oppression in present-day society, bringing to mind issues like the #MeToo movement, continued plight in Palestine and others.
The cast warns that some elements of the play might be uncomfortable: in its entirety, “Red Ryder” makes for a harrowing show featuring depictions of blood, violence and physical and verbal abuse toward women. But these details are necessary to the play’s realism and overall purpose.
“I hope [viewers] leave this place questioning everything about themselves,” said senior Matthew Aberly, who plays white collar worker Richard Ethredge.
The show hopes to evoke an intense emotional response from both the cast and audience. According to director Nathan Singh, the play is one of the last major projects that many of the cast members will take part in before graduating, but the passion to be found in this performance is bittersweet when three to four years of hard work is over.
“If you say you’re an actor, they think you’re from cinema,” said senior Nathaniel Foster, who plays gas station owner Lyle Striker. “I would love to see the community of USC come to see these awesome plays and recognize SDA for the creative entity it is.”
Senior Hansberry Quay, who plays the role of diner owner Tommy Clark, makes a comparison between this show and the 1972 musical “Cabaret,” which is set in 1930s Berlin in the last days of the Weimar Republic before the rise of the Third Reich.
“There’s a famous line [in the musical], and it’s like, ‘If you’re not against it, you’re for it,’” he said. “And I think that’s similar to what goes on in this play, because it’s asking the question to the audience — are you going to stand up for people when they are marginalized, and made to feel discriminated against?”
“Red Ryder” invites viewers to stop waiting around, wake up and find the heroes society needs within themselves.
SDA’s rendition of “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” premieres on Friday, Oct. 12, at the Scene Dock Theatre. Tickets are available at the USC Ticket Office and on the SDA website.