The High Cost of Education in Falcon Theatre’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Posted On June 28, 2017
Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: Falcon Theatre
When we think of learning how to read and write, we don’t think of violence. However, in Falcon Theatre’s latest outing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, violence arises out of this basic act.
Adapted for the stage from the 1962 film starring James Stewart and John Wayne, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance tells the story of Ransom Foster (Craig Branch), a Northern attorney making his way through the West, who gets beat up and left for dead near the town of Two Trees. Found by Bert Barricune (Allen R. Middleton), Foster soon befriends local saloon owner Hallie Jackson (Erin Carr) and Jim “The Reverend” Mosten (Derek Snow). Hallie and Jim become the founding students of a school that Foster sets up to teach them how to read. Opposing this plan is local gunslinger Liberty Valance (Paul Morris), who does some drastic things to close the school.
Director Tara Williams does a fine job of working her actors on the sparse set depicting the interior of the Two Trees’ Saloon. The action of the play draws the audience in and you soon forget that all the action takes place within the same room. Adding to this set was background music provided by Ed Cohen and Jay Dallas Benson, whose guitar and mandolin music wonderfully set the tone of the different scenes.
There were several standouts in the cast, as the leading characters all delivered strong acting performances. Craig Branch as Ransom Foster provided a wonderfully intensity to the role of the attorney who wants to set up a school in Two Trees. I was particularly struck by his performance at the end of the play when he confronts Liberty Valance. He is visibly shaking throughout that scene to indicate his nervousness in meeting Valance. This is an impressive feat, since Branch keeps that shaking throughout the entire scene.
Likewise, Erin Carr and Derek Snow did excellent jobs with the respective roles of Hallie Johnson and Jim Mosten. Over the course of the play, Carr turns Hallie Johnson from an ornery cuss to a tenderhearted woman, a great transformation. Likewise, Snow’s portrayal of an African-American man wanting to learn to read was both convincing and likeable. You root for him as he takes his journey into learning about the world through reading.
Also standouts were Allen R. Middleton as Bert Barricune and Paul Morris as the titular Liberty Valance. Both Middleton and Morris were great as tough Western men on either side of the law. Morris played Liberty Valance as downright nasty and he was frightening when he first appears onstage. I wanted to boo him when he came onstage like in the old-time melodramas.
My only complaint with this piece was that the play itself did not get up to full gallop until Foster says he is going to teach Hallie and Jim to learn how to read. The flashback sequence at the beginning slows down the action and the flash forward at the end of the play drags on more than it should.
Overall, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was a solid show that lacked some of the fire that has become a hallmark for Falcon’s stage adaptions of famous films, most notably their production of In the Heat of the Night. However, I did find the acting strong and compelling enough to keep me thoroughly interested and engaged.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance runs this weekend and the next (February 2-4 and February 9-11) at the Monmouth Theatre in Newport, Kentucky. For ticket information, see Falcon Theatre’s website at http://falcontheater.net.