On Friday, “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” debuted at the Scene Dock Theatre as part of the School of Dramatic Arts’ BFA Senior Acting Repertory. The play — performed entirely by SDA seniors — is about a quaint diner, its neighborly inhabitants, a couple of tourists and the unstable war veteran who takes them hostage. Despite minor flaws, the production was stunning.
The play’s most obvious strength is its set decoration. The detail that went into the visual design is immediately captivating, from the glowing jukebox in the corner to the real, edible food prepared live by Antoinette Ricchio in character as diner waitress Angel. Another noteworthy element of the set design is that the other BFA Senior Acting Repertory production, “Bus Stop,” which plays in tandem with “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” shares the set. Between shows, stagehands preserve most of the set since both productions take place in a diner.
The sound design was also impressive, from the low notes of cowboy country tones upon entering the theater, to the brash punk rock music following a violent break and intermission. Sound designer Dominic Torquato deserves recognition for conveying the correct tone of the play and its clash of emotions.
The cast also brought the heat with great character work. Some had much more dialogue than others, but all factions capitalized on their stagetime.
Despite the titular character being Stephen “Red” Ryder (Jackson Jones), Teddy (Ian Stewart Riley) was the story’s protagonist, perhaps because his character ignites the play’s hostage-scene climax. Jones’ performance as Red provided key tension and emotion in many scenes, but Riley dominated the dialogue and was more expressive than anyone else on stage — convincingly conveying the threatening and emotionally tortured persona his role required. Richard and Clarisse Etheridge, portrayed by Matthew Aberly Lebowitz and Lisandra Stebner, had the play’s most heart-wrenching exchange about faith and trust after being pushed to the limits by their situation.
Another point of contention and one to consider if one is more sensitive to language is that the play is a little dated, and so the dialogue is as well.
Director Nathan Singh said he was more than happy to put on the play, as he found it very topical considering the current political ecosystem and the nation’s divisiveness. With a powerful couple like the Etheridges pitted against Ryder and Angel’s minuteness, he’s not wrong. He was also quick to mention the psychological realism and how it plays on human behavior, which is very apparent in the stony silences and emotional tension on stage.
SDA’s production of “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?” is playing at Scene Dock Theatre Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.