After a long, hot summer, the Gilbert Theater's 2022/2023 season is finally here. Opening this year's lineup with a bang, the theater's production of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” will run from Sept. 16 through Oct. 2.
The play, a classic western, is billed as a story of “good vs. evil, the law vs. the gun, and one man against Liberty Valance.”
A long-time actor with the company and Gilbert Theater board member, Chris Walker, will slip into the director's chair. He is especially excited to bring this compelling and unique story to the Gilbert stage.
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a tale of “love, hope, and revenge set against the vicious backdrop of a lawless society,” was originally a short story written by Dorothy M. Johnson in 1953; it was adapted for the stage in 2014 by Jethro Compton.
The story received its widest recognition from the 1962 film starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.
The Gilbert's production will lean more heavily on Compton's adaptation than the movie's, keeping a focused eye on the story's female lead, Hallie Jackson, played by Claudia Warga-Dean.
Keeping the play female-focused and female-driven was extremely important to the production. Walker feels Warga-Dean's treatment of Hallie Jackson is integral to the play.
“[This has] turned into such a beautiful project because of Claudia,” he said. “It speaks to the way the character is written in the story. The humor comes from that character; she drives much of the play's emotion.”
Jackson's predicament — a woman caught in a love triangle between a taciturn cowboy and a worldly lawyer — may seem old-hat in a media environment saturated by such affairs. Still, the play's larger themes go hand in hand with the Gilbert's penchant for powerful story-telling.
The importance of education, the idea of power promoting ignorance, and the complexities of race are all touched upon in this play.
Walker, a fan of westerns from a young age, also finds the genre a perfect playground for telling morality tales and blending fantasy with history.
“I've been dying to work a western on stage,” Walker confessed. “This is a fairly recent adaptation, so it has a modern sensibility. Westerns have a sense of fantasy nowadays — even though it's historical. You get to play with modern ideas while dressing up, and the costumes ... are really fun."
A wild-card choice for the start of the season, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” is but a taste of the bold productions to come this season.
Patrons should ready themselves for a season of familiar classics and provocative new stories.
The Gilbert Theater's commitment to the craft of theater is a major draw for directors like Walker.
He especially credits the dedication and professionalism of the actors for such a positive experience as the play has developed from auditions to rehearsals and, soon, opening night.
“I love the collaboration,” Walker said. “You're going to run into a lot of egos in theater, but the people here understand it's about the art.”
Showtimes are 8 p.m. on Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. General admission tickets are $20. Discounts for students, senior citizens and the military are available.
To purchase tickets, visit www.GilbertTheater.com or call 910-678-7186.