Hopewell Theatre Brings the Western ‘Liberty Valance’ to Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Jeanine Rees and the cast of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” have been having a blast rehearsing the play.

Rees, the director, has no trouble pinpointing the reasons for the enthusiasm: There are so few Western stage plays, and they are just fun to put on.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” will make its Mahoning Valley premiere May 27 at Hopewell Theatre and will run for two weekends.

“There might have been more stage dramas in the days of yore,” she said, “but in the modern days I don’t know of any.”

Rees stumbled across the script a few years ago and was instantly interested in it. She was originally slated to direct the play in early 2020 but the pandemic forced its cancelation.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing with this genre on a stage,” Rees said. “I was so excited to have found this script.”

Like the 1962 John Ford film starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, the play is based on the 1953 short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. The script was written by British playwright-director Jethro Compton and premiered in 2014.

Like the movie, the play is set in 1890 in a lawless town in the Old West. It has all the period trappings of the film: a saloon with swinging doors, cowboys, outlaws and gunfights.

But the play is smaller in scope than the film – and wider in the themes it explores, Rees said. It makes use of a narrator to tie the scenes together.

The story focuses on about Foster, an easterner who arrives in the rough western town as a beaten man. He sets about to improve his surroundings and in doing so runs afoul of the outlaw Liberty Valance, who likes things the way they are.

Rees said the play’s themes include the consequences of a man’s actions, and of being an outsider.

“Audiences can take away many ideas from the play and I’m excited to see how it affects them,” Rees said.

She said her creative team strived for an authentic look, and it was challenging.

“We had to find holsters, spurs, gun belts, that whole Western kit that theaters [usually do not] have on hand,” she said.

The entire play takes place in a saloon. The Hopewell set features a fancy bar-back that would be typical of the era, as well as period clothing. Rob Whiting designed and built the set and Regina Rees was costumer.

Rees expects audiences will find it very entertaining.

“Just because it’s a Western, there is great dialog and dynamic characters,” she said. “You’ll laugh and cry and there is romance and drama. Westerns are great like that. [They have] been used to explore all sorts of themes, and they are adaptable in that way. They are another lens through which to examine the human condition.”

Rees has assembled a veteran cast that includes Molly Galano as the bar’s proprietor, Chuck Kettering as Foster and Nick Mulichak as Liberty Valance.

“Liberty is so mean, it’s great,” Rees said. “He’s the coldest and most unfeeling person, and [Mulichak] does it with great aplomb. He’s only in two scenes but boy are they memorable.”

The cast also includes Jackie Collins, Matthew Mazuroski, Jim Mosten, Edward Jordan, Rick Haldi, Dante Bernard, Michael Robinson, Richard Smiley, Brian Suchora, Rob Whiting, Michael Robinson and Dan Pompili.

Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. May 27 and 28, and June 3 and 4; and 2 p.m. June 5. The theater is at 702 Mahoning Ave.

For tickets, go to hopewelltheatre.org or call 330 746 5455.

The play includes gun shots and adult language.

Pictured at top: The cast of Hopewell Theatre’s production of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” includes (front) Jackie Collins and Chuck Kettering; and (rear) Edward Jordan Jr. and Matthew Mazuroski.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.