Hardcore Westerns have through time been known for black-and-white themes, good guys and bad guys. And certainly the classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was that — the story of a young Easterner who goes West and stands up to the local bad guy.
But what Stages Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin really loves about the play "is that it suggests there’s no such thing as black and white when it comes down to how a community comes together," he says. "We’re all capable of good and evil. At what point in time are we the villain and at what time the hero?”
In keeping with that, McLaughlin will have his two male leads periodically switch roles, meaning actors David Matranga and Adam Noble will take turns being young attorney Ranse Stoddard or the man who beats him up when he arrives in town — Liberty Valance.
Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a 2014 play (by a Brit no less) made from the same Dorothy M. Johnson short story that legendary director John Ford turned into a 1962 film starring John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.
"The playwright is this 27-year-old guy from England, who's in love with the American West," McLaughlin says.
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The two-act comes in at right under two hours in running time. In the play, Ranse is befriended by broken-down cowboy Tom Doniphon and a young woman named Hallie, with an accompanying complicating love triangle. He's the symbol of "bringing a level of civilization to the lawless West," says McLaughlin. "What does civilization mean? What does it mean to have education and equality for everyone, the inclusion of women?"
But Liberty is not without reason in his perspective, McLaughlin says, as he argues powerfully in one scene: "Look, for society to function, people need clarity. They need to know a certain level of comfort about where is this going to come from, where is that going to come from."
"At the end of the play, it turns back and asks, 'How much more compromise are you willing to accept, to get through?'"
Performances are scheduled for May 24 through June 25 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713- 527-0123 or visit stagestheatre.com. $21 -$65.