By July 15, 2017 Read More →

Review of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Who is the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?
By Rebecca Day

Prospect Theater Project closes their season with the answer to that question. The Western stage play was written by Jethro Compton, based on the short story of the same name in 1953 by Dorothy M. Johnson. The short story also inspired the 1962 film starring James Stewart and John Wayne.

Upon entering the theater you are transported to a saloon in the city of Twotrees in the year 1910. Prospect does it again with their trademark of excellent stage design optimizing the intimate space.

The story begins with various citizens of two trees paying their respects ’round a pine box soon identified as Bert Barricune played by Tim Kocher. In enters Senator Ransom Foster (Joel Eddington Morrison) somber and despondent for the old man’s passing. With the assistance of the narrator (Jordan Sanchez) we flash back 20 years to shed some light on this mysterious relationship between notable and nobody.

Bert Barricune drags in a man who is badly beaten and bloody. It is revealed that the victim is Ransome Faster. He relays his tale of how he received his beating by Liberty Valance (Eric Watkins) and his gang for standing up for an older black man.

Hallie Jackson (Melissa Dawn), the owner of the saloon offers foster room and board in exchange for teaching her friend Jim “Reverend” Mosten (Adam Torrian) and herself how to read. Romance between Hallie and Foster sparks and grows throughout the show. The saloon school doesn’t sit well with the towns resident “black hat”, Liberty Valance particularly because of Ransome Foster’s commitment to teaching Jim, a black man. You would think that with a name like Liberty he would, I don’t know, stand for good stuff like liberty. Word goes out that Valance is coming for Foster. Valance takes things too far and Foster, with the odds stacked against him having never wielded a gun, seeks out justice on his own.

The casting for the show was as close to perfect as you can get in a city as small as Modesto. I believe an actor is good when they make me feel what they are feeling. That being said, don’t be surprised when you shed a tear, laugh with the cast, or fear for their lives. You can see these players have had a lot of experience. Although each played their part excellently, even cast members with no dialogue (trust me, it is surprisingly hard to act like you were doing nothing), I want to highlight a few of my favorites.

Eric Watkins (Liberty Valance) could have easily let his stature play the part for him but he gave the character more dimension than height and hair. He played Liberty with a disturbingly jolly disposition which made him all the more terrifying and enjoyable.

Melissa Dawn (Hallie Jackson) gives her character a seamless transition from the tomboyish, spitfire saloon owner to a soft, kind lady we all know she was on the inside. To explain every detail of how much I loved this actress’s performance would give away too much of the plot!

Jordan Sanchez (Narrator/Jake Dowitt) was wonderfully articulate and captivating in his monologues. He spoke directly to the audience. As his eyes swept the room I found myself begging that he would make eye contact with me. No such luck. Though the position of narrator is often criticized as unnecessary to understand the plot this one helps with transitions and adds detail to enrich the experience.

Conclusion & additional information:

I enjoyed the show very much and wholeheartedly recommend that you attend. The director, Jack Souza, and Prospect Theater have done a great job on this last show of the 2016-17 season.

Performance dates and times are July 7, eight, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22 at 8 PM and July 9, 16, 23 at 2 PM.

The show is suitable for more adult audiences based on language. Tickets are $20 general admission/$10 students and are available online or at the box office.




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