Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

At the heart of When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? is a sense of despair at the loss of dreams and heroes. The two protagonists, Stephen and Teddy, are both locked in the myths of machismo and heroism of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Whereas Teddy has had his myths and ideals shattered by his sojourn in Vietnam and by a subsequent slide into criminality, however, Stephen stubbornly dresses and acts the role of the cowboy hero—even as his reality refutes the myth almost as much as that of Teddy.

Another theme is the schism between perceived reality and the real world. All the characters of Mark Medoff’s play have constructed personal myths that only selectively allow the bright light of reality to shine in. Teddy, the violent catalyst, forces each of them, himself included, to compare their personal scripts of their lives with reality. They all come out stripped of illusions and, perhaps, wiser.

For Medoff, in this, as in several of his other plays, the central conflict is between the ideals and myths of boyhood, symbolized by the heroes of cowboy epics such as Red Ryder, and the adult reality of the 1970’s: an unjust war in Vietnam, the Richard Nixon scandal, and the decline of America as a symbol of freedom and justice. As Teddy says, “Goddamn, where did all those people get to so fast? Where the hell’s goddamn Tim Holt, Jim? Johnny Mack and the Durango Kid? Lash LaRue. Jesus Christ, somebody pulled a fast one.”...

(The entire section is 415 words.)