reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Jethro Compton and directed by Veronique Duprey, is a play adaptation inspired from the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. The play is set in a saloon in the small western town of Twotrees. Here, a young lawyer named Ransome Foster, portrayed by Matt Hartzburg, arrives unconscious after being brutally beaten by the sadistic outlaw Liberty Valance, brilliantly played by Adam Davis. Once he has recovered, Foster starts teaching the tough proprietress of the bar, Hallie Jackson, played by Sabrina Duprey, how to read. Other town folks include an African American bar-boy, “The Reverend”, offered by newcomer Xavier Jones, whom Jackson has grown up with. He joins the make shift schoolhouse.

Hallie Jackson (Sabrina Duprey), Ransome Foster (Matt Hartzburg) and Bert Barricune (RC Thorne) in a scene from Westfield Playhouse’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”

Like the iconic film starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, the stage version is largely told in flashback as Foster, now a distinguished US senator, returns to town to attend the funeral of an old cowboy friend, Bert Barricune, realistically played by R.C. Thorn. Barricune was once Foster’s rival for the love of Hallie. The tale unwinds as Foster remembers the events of many years earlier.

Sabrina Duprey is tough and sardonic as the bar-owner and her drop-dead repartee with the idealistic lawyer has a real zing to it. However, because this bantering played more farcical in the first act instead of dramatic, as the play is intended to be, the audience reaction to the second act continued on a path of laughter, even after the shocking event of a lynching. Ms. Duprey regains her drama chops in the second act.

Liberty Valance (center – Adam Davis) with sidekicks, Alex Dantin and Robert Fimreite

Hartzburg is a bit presentational in his portrayal of Foster – perhaps this is a directorial choice, but overall Hartzburg has very good stage presence. Xavier Jones proves deeply touching as the young black man, Jim, who has a photographic memory and falls in love with Shakespeare when he learns to read. There are strong performances from Thorne, as the noble cowboy, and by Davis as the creepy and sinister Liberty Valance, who goads his victims through fear and unbridled power. The atmosphere of the production is greatly enhanced by a superb sound score, realistic set, costumes, and authentic gun fire.

from left: Deputy (Cody Holloway) and Sheriff Johnson (Kevin Shadle) in Westfield Playhouse’s production of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”.

Director Duprey is creative and gathers a realistic ensemble of Western characters for the production. Special hats off to Kevin Shadle who plays the cowardly Marshal Johnson and Tom Smith who portrays the Narrator. The cast is rounded off by a crew of crusty cowboys including Alex Dantin, Robert Fimreite, Cody Holloway, Rich Steinberg, and Rob Stokes.

It’s a rare experience to see a Western production on stage, so I warmly recommend this show.

Westfield Playhouse’s production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance runs through October 13th. For reservations call 317-402-3341 or visit their website: http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org