May 2009
by Mark Medoff
Directed by Ric Sechrest
The Spoon Theater
38 West 38th Street, 5th Floor, New York City

Stage Manager and Sound Designer:  Jeanne Travis
Set Designers:  Jack and Rebecca Cunningham
Costume Designer:  Kathryn Squitieri
Lighting Designer:  Kerrie Lovercheck
Property Designer:  Heather Cunningham
Property Packaging Designer:  Ben Philipp
Assistant Property Designer:  Christina Squitieri
Photographer:  Kristen Vaughan

Featuring: David Blais, Heather E. Cunningham, Dave T. Koenig,
Casandera M. J. Lollar, Christopher Patrick Mullen*, Ben Schnickel, Matilda Szydagis*, and Richard Waddingham*

*Appeared courtesy of Actors' Equity Association.

"Mark Medoff’s Red Ryder, at the jewel box Spoon Theater produced by Retro Productions, must be one of the best new productions, and it is done on a shoestring. Hell it might be done on a recycled shoestring. However to regard the painterly set (by Jack and Rebecca Cunningham) with throw-back signs for ten-cent coffee or longing western movie posters, you would never know it was mounted on a budget...There are eight remarkable actors all operating as an ensemble with not one tone, one voice, one stray movement. And this is a tough, rough, gruff often-difficult play... A cast list must begin with Christopher Mullen as Teddy, a Vietnam vet and drug dealer, who might become a big bright star and you will want to say you smelled his sweat and recoiled from his heavy pistol not a foot from your face...He has a sweet, extra-hippie type girl friend, Casandera Lollar who although she barely has ten lines, she presnts a character so fully realized that every time she sucks on the meticulously braided hair, or puts herself into the back light to show us her breasts illuminated in a peasant blouse, often referenced, she is lighting up the stage.  There there is the sweet crippled gas station owner Richard Waddingham, whose physical acting and empathy are pitch perfect... But the tragic star who attempts to be joyful and helpful, but ends the play weeping while consoling herself wiht one of the worst looking donuts ever seen, is Angel the chunky waitress, played by Heather E. Cunningham.  We need a sidebar to inform you that Heather Cunningham is the founder and artistic director of Retro Productions, and often this kind of casting can seem like vanity, but not here.  Heather's veneer of joy is outsized, but the terrible teasing and abuse she absorbs from nearly every character, and hence from the world at large is palpable... The ensemble is given movement and life by the skillful direction of Ric Sechrest... The company is held together with grit and twine and loads of talent and this play is a perfect recession buster: the tickets are 18 bucks with five dollar student rush at the door and the play and the small company that mounted it stand to remind us that tough times come and it is through looking not hiding that we will move forward. " - Wickham Boyle,

"Utterly engrossing …The costumes tell a silent story, perfectly matched to the plot… I was knocked out by the work [director] Sechrest did… Honestly, the bravest thing he did was to trust us and the space… There are a lot of people being acted upon in this play, and it would be very easy for the piece to become passive, but everyone has a reason for everything they do, all the time. You can watch the ancillary characters and see an entire play unfolding… I probably don't need to say much about the set because it is clearly a standout among theaters of this size. It was incredibly articulate, perfectly functional and honestly, one of the best I've seen in an off-off house… I particularly like that, behind the flats, waaaay upstage, you can see the diner sign, barely illuminated, backwards… I probably don't need to say much about Christopher Patrick Mullen.  He is terrifying, nauseating and trippingly crackling, like a blowtorch in the wrong hands.  And a blowtorch is actually the perfect description, because he underplays so much of the show, letting the lines be the lines, letting the AUDIENCE do a lot of the work.  Mullen knows that we desperately want the character to go away, and so he controls Teddy, he lets him swerve back into line just to give us a breather.  It's a master class in how to turn a set-chewing character into something at least a little human... David Blais as Richard, Dave T. Koenig as Clark, and Richard Waddingham as Lyle all do great work... Casandera M. J. Lollar also crafts an active but understated character in Cheryl... Ben Schnickel as Stephen... did fine work and it's an extremely difficult part... Just a word on Heather Cunnigham... She is a gut punch of an actor.  Completely without concern for herself when she's in character, utterly subsumed by the demands of the script... her character is humiliated a hundred different ways... the fact is, Cunningham's character Angel becomes the person we identify with.  She is who we would be, if we were in the play.  It is a marvelous night of theater." -

"The brilliant set design by Jack and Rebecca Cunningham... other fine attention to detail included a fully-functioning kitchen where hostess Angel heated up coffee and fried up some steak and eggs that her patrons then consumed, a clock that was set correctly to the time within the play and a lighted juke box that was turned on and off at key moments... Christopher Patrick Mullen steals the show as the ringmaster Teddy.  He couldn't gone for cheap thrills by simply playing to extremes, but he adds in nuance by allowing for moments of softness and sadness, even shifting out of his accent when he's ready to break with any pretense that he might still be a nice guy after all... Other stand-outs include Heather E. Cunningham as Angel.  She works so hard to please everyone else, letting all others lay into her as she tries to roll with the punches.  As the situation gets more volatile, her defenses gradually crumble as she loses the ability to cope... Also Dave T. Koenig did an excellent job as Clark, the diner's owner. It's entertaining to watch him take charge and walk over all the other characters...  This is a fantastic ensemble piece.  Director Ric Sechrest keeps the pace tight throughout.  The situation gets quite tense but has many darkly humorous moments as well.  It's very satisfying to see who will emerge from the struggle as a hero and who will lose it all." - Andrew Singer, City Scoops New York

"Retro Productions inspired me on a myriad of levels when I sat down in my seat at the Spoon Theatre to see Mark Medoff's When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?  To begin with, you are immediately taken in by the gorgeous set - by design team Jack and Rebecca Cunningham, who have taken this small space and turned it into a tired late 60s diner in New Mexico.  From the little bar with stools, to the checkered and worn out floor; the painted windows that had the illusion of the world outside (and the diner's name backwards as if reading from outside would have a perfect picture).  There were painted shelves with plates and saucers and ketchup bottles - but so well that I couldn't tell the difference except after close scrutiny; they created the perfect illusion.  The inspiration went beyond their fabulous set, complete with an old lit Jukebox that plays some of the best country hits from that time; I was inspired to see a theatre company make it its mission to do revivals of plays that are incredibly important pieces of work; it's refreshing to see a company not only revive - but rather successfully do so at that - a play like Mark Medoff's 1973 psychological thrilling piece... Most of the piece is wonderfully written, but it takes actors really dealing with each other and not falling into contrived behaviour to keep a full life going at all times... Waddingham's  work was wonderful.  From his physicality of paralysis and ability to use the crutch, to his dealing with his fellow actors on stage and moments where I saw him trying to really talk to people - be it Teddy or Angels or Red, Waddingham's portrayal of Lyle was truly enjoyable.  He gave a breath of life to a small-town character that kept me interested.  Mullen was exceptional as Teddy.  It would have been very easy to just play his character as a one-dimensional sociopath.  Mullen's embodiment of Teddy had so many colors and levels to his work that there was never a moment when you knew what he was going to do... I applaud Retro Productions for putting together a performance that had me riveted throughout much of the piece, and for simply breathing life in to a play that should have been done much, much sooner.  It runs through the 23rd, and I suggest people attend - for it's not often you get to see revivals like this and have them be entertaining, well-acted, and visually pleasing overall." - Dianna Martin, The Fab Marquee

"First evident... is how splendidly set designers Jack and Rebecca Cunningham have created Foster's Diner, the setting of Mark Medoff's play When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?  It's a sad, greasy outpost of culinary refuse, a relic of hip 1950s-style eating that was anachronistic by the end of the 1960s, when [Red Ryder] takes place... Still, sepia hues are not the way Red Ryder drives drama... It's a play about the rich core of fear; how the simple folk who symbolize America's goodness are so easily made vulnerable by the guileful and crafty.  Ric Sechrest's production puts all of this across wonderfully." - Leonard Jacobs, Back Stage