THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE presented by Falcon Theatre through Feb. 11. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening Saturday performance.
To the best of my recollection, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is only the second play I’ve attended that was set in the Old West. My dad was a huge John Wayne fan, but I don’t remember seeing the film as a kid, so I’ll leave it to someone else to tell you how it stacks up against the movie.
In this cast, Craig Branch does well as fish-out-of-water Ransome Foster, an Easterner passing through town on his way West who gets waylaid by the title character. As bar owner Hallie Jackson, Erin Carr is completely believable as a strong-willed woman with little experience in the ways of the heart.
Allen R. Middleton is pitch perfect as Bert Barricune, the hard-nosed cowboy with a well-hidden heart of gold. Derek Snow’s Jim (Reverend) Mosten, is a kind, gentle soul who’s easily likeable and provides a great emotional impact to the play. The relationships between these four characters are well-defined and believable.
Eleventh hour addition to the cast, Paul Morris, is spot-on as the villain of the piece, Liberty Valance. His entrance near the end of Act I completely changes the mood of the show. As Marshal Johnson, I would have liked to have seen stronger character choices from actor Terry Gosdin. As portrayed, the Marshall’s personality and temperament seem out of place in comparison to the other residents of this frontier town.
Ed Cohen is a great choice for the Narrator, but I do think that placing him seated at a table upstage right table is a weak choice to engage the audience. The line delivery was low, conversational, and partly addressed to his table mate. If you are the narrator and break the fourth wall, then be the narrator and break the fourth wall. Nathan Tubbs, Paul Kerford Wilson and Jay Dallas Benson nicely round out the ensemble.
Director Tara Williams has a good eye for motivated movement and setting stage pictures. I did feel that the space downstage right was underutilized with the show being center and stage left heavy. The biggest struggle with the show for me was the pacing. There seems to be this unwritten rule that people of the Old West talk…real…slow….and there were times when this was true in this production as well. Quicker line pickups would have also helped, as not every cue line needs a reaction. This is especially true in the final pages of Act II, which as written drags out the reveal that the audience has already figured out. As performed, it seems to run about ten minutes longer than it should.
The set works well for the most part and I really enjoy the look of the reclaimed wood. The rocking chair seems like an odd choice for a saloon and actors struggled to get around it. Another awkward moment was trying to get the casket off stage after the initial scene. Although I couldn’t see the exit downstage left, it was easy to hear the modern door hardware.
Overall, a solid Western with great characters and a romance or two that will only get stronger in its final two weeks.
My rating: 4.25 out of 5
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