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Good acting,​ for all its enduring intricacies and venerable methodologies, is an

evaluation of depth. Depth from a character standpoint, depth from a conceptual

standpoint, depth as a simple demonstration of basic human interactions. A palpable
and marked depth can elevate even the most insecure of theatrical productions to a
place of genuine and unequivocal honesty, trading in hollow mediocrities for bona fide
and earnest emotion. One performance in particular from Monday’s Theater 320
production of ​When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder ​contained said depth: the dishrag.

Yes, the kitchen dishrag, whose brief but elegant moment was nearly hijacked,
due to an unfortunate throwing error. In that swift yet meaningful moment, the
common household accessory displayed more power and strength of will than any
previously presented by the show’s titular character, Red Ryder. Lead by student Chase
Watkins, what could have been a dynamic and compelling demonstration of stuffy social
turmoils, amounted to nothing more than a showcase of missed opportunity.

Written by Mark Medoff as a part of the community’s ongoing love affair with
theatrical realism, the first scene of ​Red Ryder ​introduces to a world of gender
maltreatments and unfulfilled ambitions, through the set of a sleepy 60’s diner. Marred
by insecurities and a diminished sense of self, Kimberly Romano’s sheepish Angel
battles vigorously for connection and acknowledgement in the form of her co-worker,
testy Red Ryder. And while Romano fought admirably to bring said connection to life,
her effort was sadly, and through no fault of her own, in vain.

An acting performance, at least a compelling one, requires a journey, requires a

development, requires a change. A contest of objectives and intentions holds no
meaning when an actor makes no discernible attempt towards progression. Through
both movement and mindset alike, Watkins’ Ryder remained painfully unchanging and
abysmally stagnant. The character began and ended in the same place, in many more
ways than one. Obstinacy as a goal remains legitimate and well-founded, but as an
undistinguished, or at the very least unclear direction of performance, the results are
less than appealing.

That, in essence, is where this production of ​Red Ryder ​failed. Whatever voice
alterations or inflection adjustments made on the part of Watkins proved poor and
ineffective in terms of establishing clear character advancement. The actor, who
resorted to raised voices and one-note shut downs far too often, seemed to have no
greater grip on the character than unexplainably ill-tempered. Whereas Romano took
her character on a migration, beginning the scene as unapologetically determined and
ending as a defeated reminder of gender mistreatment, Watkins went nowhere.

Problems in movement, awkwardness in physicality, poor actorial choices, all of

these could have been forgiven if not for the noticeably lacking layer of profundity in
which the initial scene was built. Watkins was simply mean for the sake of being mean,
crude for the sake of being crude, insensitive because that is what the script provided.
What should have been a telling look at antiquated gender functions, Angel’s inability to
seek value beyond the recognition of an undeserving man, became nothing more than
Watkins testing how many forms in which he can deliver the same generic line.

A strong actor can move without movement, can call upon power and authority
with merely the sound of their voice, remaining stationary does not present a problem.
But for a lesser actor, the confines of anchored blocking serve as a crux to any
momentum in which they hope to achieve. The rare seconds in Watkins did depart from
the bottomless comfort of his seat did provide for a momentary change of pace and
evolution, but as quickly as the distance was closed, so too was the improvement.

For proof of ineffectiveness, one need look no further than to the small audience
who had the luxury of being in house for this performance. Whereas a proper
production of ​Red Ryder ​would meet the unyielding heroine humiliations with audience
displeasure and discontent, their response was, tellingly, still grounded in quiet
laughter. Whatever attempts made to lower Watkins’ character reputation following a
brief preview of the production were clearly in vain. Red Ryder now sat in inefficient
limbo between detestable bastard and lovable scamp, splitting devotion between two
contrasting causes.

If there was any measure of the performance worth commending, it was the
naturalistic blocking, along with the ancillary action of Romano, which was woven
seamlessly into the direction of the scene. Criticisms aside, the use of synchronized
nonverbal cues from both Romano and Watkins, exhibited effortlessly the daily
humdrum of a tedious working routine. While Watkins’ greater performance execution
left a great deal to be desired, the small moments of harmonized moments with the
downstage Romano, the use of a coffee cup for example, did provide a nominal level of

It was in these lulls of dialogue and activity, free of poor line deliveries and
repetitive natures, that provided for perhaps the most memorable of ​Red Ryder
moments, if any. Through prolonged gazes or continuations of the muted restaurant
routine, Watkins and Romano allowed their scene brief opportunities to breathe,
respites from the grating and feckless bickering that was intended to make-up a scene.
While few and far between, these restrained moments proved sufficient in creating the
“been there, done that” approach to the character’s squabbles, a sense of normalcy and
habituality in the appearingly destructive relationship that the scene displayed. Unfazed
and apparently unaffected by their defamatory comments to one another, the two seem
content enough to continue their daily customs, affording no true indication that they
won’t be back the next morning to do it all again.

Allegorical to the greater nature of American inflexibility, indicative of change aversions

at a critical societal juncture, the bones for a poignant and purposeful theatre-going
experience are within grasp, hidden behind an insult machine and a superficial
application of source material. A missed opportunity to the highest degree, Watkins’
performance​ did at least provide the audience with one small glimmer of hope as they
move forward with their now shortened lives. In response to the show’s titular question:
if we’re lucky, not for a long long time