British playwright Jethro Compton couldn't get the stage rights from the Hollywood film producton of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Reviewer Charles Spencer says, "So he turned instead to the original short story by Dorothy M. Johnson on which the movie was based. It only runs to some 25 pages and the result is a play that is tighter and tauter than the screen version."
A western saloon was a meeting place, a watering hole, a place for playing cards, accessing women of easy virtue, listening to music, and a place to let off steam or get even. Each town had numerous saloons. Just like Starbucks in today's world.
A short story usually limits the location to one. In this case it is a saloon. When you're talking about the old west, or at the tailend of the old west, this is fine, but I missed the violence. This is quite a statement coming from someone who walked out of the film "Arsenal" because of the cruelty, sadism, and barbarity. I missed that in "The Man Who Shot Libery Valance." I needed those qualities that lept out of the character Libery Valance in the film version. Those faults in the mistreatment of other's is a basic component for "comeuppance." And in the movie you want Libert Valance to be served his "just desserts" in spades! In the play, he deserves to be dealt with, but it's toned down. It's a thinking man's version.
Dorothy M. Johnson graduated from Montana State University in 1929. She wrote 17 books and more than 50 short stories. Two other stories by Johnson were made into films: "The Hanging Tree," and "A Man Called Horse." All three westerns are classics.
If the myth gets bigger than the man, print the myth.
Dorothy M. Johnson
In the TLT program the first act was supposed to run for sixty-one minutes and the second act sixty-six minutes. The first act ran short, but felt longer. The problem was two fold: The opening narration stumbled - couldn't be heard or understood. It didn't help with long pauses in the dark at the start and finish of some scenes. The audience was never sure if the scene was over. The audience needs clues so they can applaud. The hesitation cost well deserved applause and created discomfort and mumbling from around the theater.
The story: In 1890 an educated and idealistic young lawyer, Ransome Foster (played by Jacob Tice) from New York City travels west in search of a new life. He runs into real life in the form of Liberty Valance (played by Mason Quinn) and is left half-beaten to death on the prairie. He is rescued by a white hat cowboy, Bert Barricune (played by Chris James) who takes him to a local saloon. Revived by Bert and Reverend Jim (played by Nick Butler) but still in pain, the town of Two Trees becomes his home. There is a love-triangle between Ransome, Bert and the saloon owner Hallie Jackson (played by Jill Heinecke).
Once Jill Heinecke took command of the stage the play was at hand. The work of Heinecke and Tice kept the action going and made the production worthwhile. Well written characters and well acted parts always make a difference. Heinecke performed in "Second Samuel" and "The Last Night ofBallyhoo," two of our favorite previous productions at TLT.
Sparks fly as soon as Hallie and Ransome meet. There is quickly a "take-no-prisoners" repartee between the two. Soon Hallie and Rev. Jim as well as others are being educated by Ransome. Soon the dasdardly machinations of Liberty Valance escalate. He hangs Rev. Jim and eventually goads Ransome into a gunfight. Liberty Valance ends up dead. Ransome is voted in later as governor, but Ransome is troubled by the fact that he was elected only because of the killing of Valance and not on his own merits. For the details on who gets the girl and who killed Liberty Valance, you'll need to buy tickets.
The play is billed as "classic story of good versus evil, law versus the gun, one man versus Liberty Valance. A tale of love, hope and revenge set against the vicious backdrop of a lawless society." It's fairly easy to make out which side of the evil equation the characters are on.
The set looks authentic and very cowboyish, except the stools at the bar bothered me . . . the elevated spitoon did not. The production runs through June 18th, with the final showing at 2:00 PM. Visit online to purchase tickets.