Breaking the Law of the Gun

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“. . .from the moment a girl gets to be full grown the very first thing she learns, when two men go out to face each other only one returns.”—Gene Pitney

One man represents civilization, order, justice.  The other represents violence, repression, darkness.  The one who stands is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Jethro Compton and based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson and is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If you have ever seen the film version of this story, blank it from your mind.  While a few elements from the original story made it into the movie, it took many liberties in terms of names, characters, and characterizations.  Compton’s script certainly is not without merit.  It has a methodical build to a climax in each act and some compelling interactions.  But it’s also very talky with little action and takes too long to get where it’s going.  Fortunately, on the whole, this cast is able to make the most out of the script’s strengths.

Jeff Horger’s direction is pretty admirable.  His actors give solid to strong performances, the beats are well developed, and he crafts two decidedly chilling scenes with the malevolent Valance.

The supporting cast does a workmanlike job in the performance, bolstered by an especially strong effort from Chris Berger who has quiet dignity as the Narrator and a good turn from Christopher Scott as the useless, but calculating, Marshal Johnson.

Dennis Stessman’s take on Ransome Foster is a rather far cry from the clean-cut hero.  He does have a good heart and courage with his teaching the townspeople how to read and his willingness to stand up to Valance, but he’s actually an unlikable prick on the whole.  It’s obvious he considers himself smarter than the rest of the citizenry of TwoTrees and considers the town dull and backwoodsy.  This duality in nature makes for a rather interesting character study, but I thought Stessman was a little too controlled in his take on Foster.  He did a good job showing Foster’s intelligence and spine, but he had a very tight rein on Foster’s emotions and there were moments that could have been made stronger with some bolder emotional choices.

There’s no subtlety to Sydney Readman’s portrayal of Hallie Jackson, the saloon owner, and that is just right for the character.  Hallie is a no-nonsense, blunt, in your face type of gal in order to survive in the harsh environment of the West and Ms Readman communicates that attitude by getting in the face of people who annoy her and her sharp speech.  But she is also capable of presenting Hallie’s softer emotions and her mourning of the death of a dear friend is one of the play’s most touching moments.

Isaac Reilly fully embodies the role of Bert Barricune.  You can’t help but be charmed by his laconic speech and respect his toughness.  Reilly brings fantastic swagger and confidence to the role and he is every bit the cowboy.  Reilly also has superior comedic timing as he gets some of the play’s best zingers.

Chad Cunningham darn near steals the show as Jim Mosten, Hallie’s jack of all trades.  Nicknamed the Reverend due to his ability to quote the Bible, chapter and verse, Mosten is the illiterate with the photographic memory as he hears something once and never forgets.  Cunningham brings a gregariousness and openness to Mosten that makes him feel like your best friend.  He also brings great bravery to the role as he calmly faces down Liberty Valance in a game of Liar’s Dice at the climax of Act I.

If I had been casting this show I might have overlooked Brennan Thomas for the role of Liberty Valance due to his elegance and I would have been an idiot for doing so.  Thomas brings a calm savagery to the well-read and well-spoken villain, always managing to let just enough of the animal peek through to leave no doubt that anyone he’s talking with is in deadly peril.  Though he only appears in two scenes, the wait is well worth it as the Valance scenes are the best in the show.

I give this play high marks on the technical aspects.  Jim Othuse does it again with his saloon set from the old fashioned wood building to the swinging doors on the center aisle.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are just right from the classy garb of the gentleman Foster to the tomboy working clothes of Hallie to the riverboat gambler look of Valance.  John Gibilisco’s sounds are truly well done, especially the evil music that plays whenever Valance appears.

I thought the energy and cue pickups were lacking a bit in the play’s first act, but this picked up in the second act.  Projection was also an issue, but the cast also managed to largely overcome this difficulty in Act II.

Due to its talky nature, this isn’t your typical western, but it does bring new depth to the battle of good vs evil.  It’s far more than a tale about the hero battling the villain.  It’s a story of civility breaking the law of the gun.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 12.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Parental discretion is advised due to some rough language.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Dodge Street in Omaha, NE.

OCP Goes to the Wild West with ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

Omaha, Neb.The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, running at the Omaha Community Playhouse February 10 – March 12, 2017 in the Howard Drew Theatre, is a classic western story of good versus bad and the law versus the gun. Made popular by the 1962 film version starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is set in 1890 in the Wild West and tells the tale of a young scholar from New York City who travels west in search of a new life, but arrives badly beaten in the town of Twotrees. After being rescued from the plains, the town soon becomes his home. A local girl gives him purpose, but a fierce outlaw wants him dead. He must make a choice: to turn and run or to stand for what he believes; to live or to fight; whether or not to become the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has been named an official event of the Nebraska 150 Celebration, which is a yearlong celebration across the state of Nebraska in 2017 marking the 150th year of statehood. The Sesquicentennial is a strategic initiative that promotes a spirit of pride, growth, engagement and connection within our state by bridging Nebraskans across different communities, perspectives and cultures. For more information, visit https://ne150.org/calendar/man-shot-liberty-valance-play/

Production:        The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Credits:                Book by Jethro Compton; Based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson

Director:              Jeff Horger

Cast

Dennis Stessman as Ransome Foster

Sydney Readman as Hallie Jackson

Isaac Reilly as Bert Barricune

Chad Cunningham as Jim Mosten

Christopher Scott as Marshal Johnson

Brennan Thomas as Liberty Valance

Chris Berger as The Narrator

Ensemble roles filled by Aubrey Fleming & Gary Williams

Show Dates:       February 10 – March 12, 2017 (Thurs – Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2pm)

Tickets:                At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or http://www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students. Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $24 for adults and $16 for students.

Discounts:           Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability.

Sponsored by:   2016-2017 Pegasus Travel Tours and Cox (media sponsor)

Location:             Howard Drew Theatre | Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass Street Omaha, NE 68132)

 

A Season Most Short

I had once planned to call this year’s story series “A Season of Renewal”, but life had other ideas as it’s actually become my shortest season in history.

Picking up from our last tale, Lost Boy Found In Whole Foods continued its critical success into that year’s Playhouse Awards.  All of my actors were nominated for acting prizes which certainly made me proud with my first dip into the directing side of things.  We ended up taking home 4 prizes (Best Featured Actor, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, and Best Cameo by an Actress).

Success followed us to that year’s TAG Awards where Lara Marsh took home the Best Director prize in a three way tie.  I’ve laid claim to the left big toe of the statuette.

Broadway World Awards were next on the list where we ended up taking Best Actor, Director, Supporting Actress & Actor, and Best Set Design (Large Theatre).  I truly was blessed to have been involved with such an astounding production.

But for my own little endeavors as a performer, it was a long wait for my next audition.  In fact, my first audition for the season took place only a month ago.  It had been a year and a half since my last audition, the longest amount of time that had ever passed between attempts.

I auditioned for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance at the Omaha Playhouse under the direction of Jeff Horger.  The film version is one of my favorite westerns and it’s a powerful story of a man standing on principle against the law of the gun.

For those of you familiar with the film, the play is quite a bit different than you may expect.  The play more closely resembles the short story with which the film took quite a few liberties.  Characters have different names.  Some characters in the film aren’t present in the play.  The language is a bit stronger.  Valance is considerably more intelligent.  The play is also quite a bit talkier.

My choices were pretty limited.  Originally I had been interested in the roles of Ransome Foster (played by Jimmy Stewart under the name Ransome Stoddard in the film) and Dutton Peabody, the newspaperman (played by Edmund O’Brien in the film).  There isn’t a Peabody character in the play so that went out.  That left me with either Foster or the Marshal.  Valance didn’t enter my mind as I don’t have the look of a stone cold killer.  Foster was even a long shot as most of the characters in the show were supposed to be in their mid twenties.  While I still look younger than I am in the face, my hairline and hair color more readily reveal the truth that I am about to turn 40 in a few months.

From the start, I felt there was something off about this read.  From a technical standpoint, I was pretty solid.  But the spark of my heart simply wasn’t there.  It just felt like I was going through the motions.  For the first time in years, I walked out of an audition without the glimmer of hope that I had a chance and that ended up being the case.  Given that most of the primary cast is in their mid twenties, I take some solace in the fact that even a top flight audition might not have netted me a role.

I actually had my last audition for the season earlier this week.  I received an invitation from Christina Belford-Rohling to audition for Elephant’s Graveyard, the next reader’s theatre production of the Playhouse’s Alternative Programming series.  The play is based on the true story of the lynching of a circus elephant.

I came to the audition and was pleased to see quite a few faces, many of them new to me.  I’ve noted that the reader’s theatre productions tend to bring out quite a few people since there is a lot more flexibility in the casting.

Aside from the brief synopsis, I knew nothing about the play so I was open to any character.  When I read the character, I felt a pull towards the Ringmaster, Clown, and Preacher.

Let me tell you something.  Monday’s audition was the best type of audition.  I read the monologue for the clown and the beats just fell into place.  I walked into the room and nailed the read.  The spark was there and I was truly enjoying myself.

When I finished, Christina said, “Truly excellent.  I want you to try something for me.”

Then she brought out a music stand and had me place the monologue on it.  She then asked me to actually mime juggling and do the last half of the monologue and really make her feel like I loved that elephant at the end.  I had actually envisioned the juggling when I originally read the monologue so this worked out well.

I started juggling and the physicality of it made my read a little more nonchalant.  And I switched up the juggling as I spoke, moving from two hands to one back to two, tossing it under my leg, and catching it behind my back.  I caught my imaginary balls and delivered the love line which could have been taken a smidge farther.

Christina said, “Really excellent.  I don’t think I need to see anymore if that’s all right with you.”  I had no problems with that and went home, content with a good read.

Let me tell you something.  Monday’s audition was the worst type of audition.  Despite an excellent read, I failed to make the cut.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the reward is always in the read.  If you read well, you won.  The casting really doesn’t matter.  It’s just the icing on the cake.

Until the next season.

A Plethora of Auditions for OCP in December

Throughout the month of December, the Omaha Community Playhouse will be holding several auditions for the 2nd half of its season.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Production Dates: January 20-February 12, 2017
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Carl Beck

Synopsis: Around the World in 80 Days is a fantastic journey filled with exotic locations and cultures, with comedy and suspense leading the way. Phileas Fogg, an Englishman, and his French manservant, Passepartout, create a strange pairing with their distinct cultural backgrounds. Their journey challenges both Fogg and Passepartout in many ways, but they come out as winners in the end. The two men journey around the world to win a simple wager, but they leave an incredible story about loyalty and friendship in their wake. This production consists of five extremely resourceful actors who bring Jules Verne’s incredible story to life. Making the most of the Playhouse stage, they create all the exotic locales, the international cast of characters and even an elephant!

Audition Dates: Monday, November 21 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, November 22 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:
Note: Actors of all ethnicities are encouraged to audition

PHILEAS FOGG – A wealthy British adventurer.

JEAN PASSEPARTOUT – Fogg’s very clever and resourceful French man servant.

AOUDA – An Indian/European princess who is rescued from death by Fogg.

ACTOR #4 – Plays 11 characters including Detective Fix, a dense, bumbling member of Scotland Yard in hot pursuit of Fogg.

ACTOR #5 – Plays 17 characters from many places all over the world.

ROCK OF AGES
Production Dates: March 3-April 2, 2017
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Synopsis: Set in L.A.’s infamous Sunset Strip in 1987, Rock of Ages tells the story of Drew, a boy from South Detroit, and Sherrie, a small-town girl, both in L.A. to chase their dreams of making it big and falling in love. Nominated for five Tony Awards, this smash-hit musical comedy is an arena-rock-n-roll love story told through the hits of the 1980s like “Sister Christian,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Dead or Alive,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Here I Go Again,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and many more! Rock of Ages takes you back to the times of big bands with big egos playing big guitar solos and sporting even bigger hair! Contains mischievous behavior, suggestive and adult language and comedic reference to drug usage.

Audition Dates: Monday, December 5 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, December 6 at 7:00 PM

• Please come prepared with 16 bars of music prepared to sing. An accompanist will be provided.

• There will be a dance audition, pleased come dressed ready to move or bring a change of clothes with you. Boots, sandals, flip-flips, slick shoes, etc. should not be worn during the dance audition.

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
Production Dates: February 10-March 12, 2017
Performs in: Howard Drew Theatre
Director: Jeff Horger

Synopsis: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a dramatic play set in the 1890s American West. It contains all the staples of a cinematic western, including a rustic saloon, a stranger in a small town, and familiar characters with wide brimmed hats and guns on their hips. It tells the story of a scholar from New York City whose journey west in search of a new life is side-tracked when he is beaten and left for dead outside the small town of Two Trees, where he must decide whether or not to face his attacker when he returns. It tells the story of a young woman whose routine attempts to carve out a place for herself in society is interrupted by the appearance of an intriguing stranger. It tells the story of a deadly gunslinger who wants nothing more than to stay away from the violence that he knows is coming. It tells the story of a man who makes a living instilling fear in and inflicting pain on others, never dreaming that anyone would ever stand up to him or challenge his reign of terror. Notes about the play: This production is not a send-up or parody of the western genre. The characters are grounded in reality. They are Midwesterners, and require no accents or dialects. This production features stage combat, gunplay, mild language, music, singing, and passages from Shakespeare and The Bible.

Audition Dates: Monday, December 12 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, December 13 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:
RANSOME FOSTER (Mid 20s to Late 30s, male, any ethnicity) – A fish out of water. He is educated but not worldly. He is eager to embrace the culture of the American West, but lacks the survival skills necessary to navigate it.

HALLIE JACKSON (Early 20s to Mid 30s, female, any ethnicity) – The proprietor of the Prairie Belle saloon. She enjoys her independent status in a male-dominated society. Her heart is open to love, but marriage is not a priority.

BERT BARRICUNE (Late 20s to Early 40s, male, any ethnicity) – A struggling rancher, and the toughest man in town. He is an accomplished gunslinger, but not a natural protector of the innocent. Over the years his respect for Hallie has turned into desire.

JIM MOSTEN (Early 20s to Mid 30s, male, black) – Hallie’s sole employee at the Prairie Belle. Although he is uneducated, he is far from simple and eager to learn more about the world. He is loyal, sweet, and very pleasant company. He enjoys singing and reciting scripture.

MARSHAL JOHNSON (Mid 30s to Mid 60s, male, any ethnicity) – The local authority in Two Trees. He may have been the face of justice back in the day, but time has taken its toll and he is no longer a beacon of law and order. He might be corrupt. He might be a coward. He might be a drunk. Then again…he might not be.

LIBERTY VALANCE (Late 20s to Mid 40s, male, caucasian) – A man who operates outside of the law. He lives off the suffering of others. He has no moral compass. He gambles and kills for profit and for pleasure.

ENSEMBLE (3-6 males and 1-3 females, any ethnicity) – Minor roles. Some non-speaking. Some singing.

• For all 3 shows, you will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• To expedite the check in process – please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.