When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?, CollaborAction Theatre Company, at Profiles Theatre. When the setting is a lonely truck stop a few miles from the Mexican border, and one of the employees is a restless teenage boy, and a drug-running Vietnam vet stops for gas--well, you've got the ingredients for a locked-room hostage-situation melodrama.
But director Lou Saliba looks beyond the formula in Mark Medoff's 1973 When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder? to its encounter-group dynamics. In this CollaborAction production, the fugitive's wartime skirmishes with death have made him a daredevil, a criminal, and a bully, certainly. But the terror and humiliation he imposes on his hostages act to their benefit, shaking them out of their complacency and forcing them to confront their mortality and face their suddenly precious lives with renewed vigor.
Helping us to accept this problematic interpretation is Anthony Moseley, who makes badass Teddy such a charming villain that we can almost--almost--forget he's a sadistic thug who shoots men in cold blood. The other actors still seemed uncertain of their characters on opening night, but Casey Hayes's rebellious adolescent has some nice moments. And Tom Mitchell's set replicates the Formica-and-fluorescent-light milieu so accurately that we can almost smell the bacon frying.
--Mary Shen Barnidge