* This post may contain some spoilers for the story plot of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
“The theatre, the theatre, what’s happened to the theatre?” So asks Danny Kaye in the 1954 film, White Christmas. Thankfully today I do not feel inclined to repeat his question, as The Manitoba Theatre Centre’s adaption of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was spot on.
The entire play took place on one set, Hallie Jackson’s saloon which I thought was an interesting choice. Having once set gave them the opportunity to put more detail into it, it could be more permanent obviously and larger, allowing for a functioning second floor etc. Smaller sets often need to be moved quickly during scene changes or intermission which does cause them to lose detail. They are less “real”.
One set, however, meant that every scene took place inside the saloon. This meant there were a number of scenes that were not explicitly shown, but rather implied or talked about after the fact. I do not think that having one set took away from the play in anyway. Some scenes had to move indoors but it still flowed well and the set was very well done.
The actors were experienced and talented, David W. Keeley and Paul Essiembre especially stood out from the rest of the cast. Keeley, who played gunslinger Burt Barricune, made you feel for Burt as he eventually admitted to his feelings for Hallie and came to realize they were not to be. Essiembre on the other hand made your skin crawl with his calm almost gentlemanly personna as the villain, Liberty Valance. He didn’t allow anyone to get a rise out of him but he had a confident, threatening presence; you instinctively knew he was not to be trifled with.
The play was unlike any other I have seen, up to this point I have mostly been to see either adaptions of classic stories or comedies so a Western was quite a different story. It was intense, but it was very good and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
If you’d like a three minute summary of the story, here is the song Liberty Valance by Gene Pitney which tells the tale!