Wineke theater review: James Ridge dominates the APT stage

Ridge plays roles in 'American Buffalo,' 'The Seagull'
Wineke theater review: James Ridge dominates the APT stage
James Ridge in 'American Buffalo'

When American Players Theatre actor James Ridge puts in a day’s work, he puts in a full day’s work.

Twice this summer the popular actor has played major roles in David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” and Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” on the same day, playing one of three characters in the Mamet play and playing a physician in the Chekhov play.

It was an impressive feat.

In “American Buffalo” in particular, Ridge plays the role of Teach, a petty grifter in his friend Donnie’s junk shop. The play is staged in APT’s smaller Touchstone Theater and Ridge is on the stage in constant, manic motion for the better part of two hours.

His character could be described as having Ralph Kramden’s personality and Ed Norton’s gestures (you have to go back to the “Honeymooners” of 1951 to 1955 to appreciate that reference). If Ridge didn’t have a bit of acrobat about him, he would surely be injured. He runs and lurches around the stage, screaming language you wouldn’t read on this website, as he conspires with the somewhat sane and placid shop owner, Brian Mani, to rob a former customer who presumably has a stash of rare coins.

Their foil, however, isn’t the customer, it is Bobby, a somewhat slow but earnest hanger-on at the shop. Bobby is played ably by Brandon Meyer.

Ridge has been a member of the company for 17 years and Mani for 15. The contrast between these two veterans and Meyer, who is an apprentice with APT, is brilliant. Meyer plays his role well, but in contrast with the other two, appears somewhat innocent — which is what his role requires.

The whole thing is depressingly funny. Mamet believed the American dream built on a capitalist system is a phony concept. None of the characters in this play achieve anything but frustration and depression. But they’re very funny in the process.

Three hours after the play ended, Ridge trooped up the hill to begin an evening performance of “The Seagull.”

“The Seagull” is something else again.

Written in Russia in 1895, “The Seagull” tells the stories of a number of pretentious characters: Irina Arkadina, a fading middle-aged actress played beautifully by Tracy Michelle Arnold; her son Konstantin, an aspiring writer, played by Christopher Sheard; Nina Zerechnaya, an aspiring actress Konstantin loves but who throws him over for an established writer; and Boris Trigorin (Jim DeVita), who is also the consort of Irina.

Well, it’s Russian and it all gets complicated.

Ridge plays the role of Evgeny Sergeevich Dorn, a doctor. The role is almost the exact opposite of his role as Teach. Dorn is quiet and perhaps the only sane person in the play. But he’s on stage for pretty much the entire performance.

Nothing turns out very well for the characters. Konstantin gains some repute as a writer, but it doesn’t bring him the joy he wished. Nina becomes an actress, but not a very good one. Trigorin abandons her and returns to Irina, as he always does. Dorn travels the world but keeps coming home, where he prescribes useless medicines.

It’s all very depressing.

The acting is first rate.

The cast includes such APT favorites as Robert Spencer, Colleen Madden, Tim Gittings (he plays a truly pathetic school teacher) and Robert Spencer. It features an accordion player, viola player and a guitarist (Sergei Belkin, Nick Ehlinger and Jake Penner).

It’s a good production.