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When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder In Mark Medoff's award-winning play, a sleepy roadside diner in southern New Mexico awakens with a bang when invaded by a sadistic psychopath. The action begins with deceptive quiet as Angel (Lyndsay Sweeney) arrives late for her shift, replacing the night-shift operator, Red (Keenan Hurley). The manager, Clark (Alan Hall), stops in briefly, as does Lyle (Ted Doolittle), who runs the nearby gas station. The rhythm is natural, unhurried, aided strongly by a brilliant, fully detailed set by Trey Otis. A couple, Clarisse (Lendsey Kersey) and Richard (Tom Long), enter to eat as their Cadillac is gassed. The pace picks up with the entrance of Teddy (Travis Ammons) and Cheryl (Katrina Ellsworth), garbed as though fresh from the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Teddy is gregarious, talkative, an extrovert — he intrudes on Clarisse and Richard, challenges Red, playfully but with an increasingly sinister tone, and in a few moments links all together in distaste for him. He segues from charm to bullying, first by force of personality and then by other means of persuasion. The success of this suspense drama hinges on Teddy, and Ammons nails the part with an animated energy that is riveting. Director Steven Fenley has found an excellent cast and shaped it into a smoothly functioning ensemble. The evening may not be everyone's cup of tea, but cruelty can be engrossing. Playwright Medoff creates suspense and includes indications of how these events have altered lives. His depiction of Teddy is frighteningly plausible — he may be the next youth with a gun in the shopping mall. The thriller gains increasing speed and power as Ammons creates the psychopath, in a compelling performance, and brings this suspenseful drama to vibrant life. Through November 4. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — JJT

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