By Rick Morwick
Veronique Duprey has directed several productions at Westfield Playhouse. But her latest project, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” is notable, if not exceptional, for several reasons.
For example, the play is adapted from Dorothy M. Johnson’s original 1953 short story, not the 1962 John Ford movie starring John Wayne and James Stewart. And, it’s Duprey’s first time directing adult actors.
And, the show is making its Indiana premiere.
“It’s a story of hope and love and how people react to change, all the universal themes,” said Duprey, a Fishers resident who has directed several children’s productions at Westfield Playhouse. “I am excited to bring it to the area.”
A Main Street Productions presentation, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” begins an eight-show run Sept. 27 at Westfield Playhouse, 1836 W. St. Rd. 32, Westfield. The final show is Oct. 13.
Set in a small Western town in 1890, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a classic tale of good versus evil, with themes of love, hope and revenge. The story centers on Ransome Foster, a young scholar from New York City who refuses to back down from outlaw Liberty Valance, setting the stage for a deadly showdown with the notorious gunman who terrorizes the town.
“It is a Western, which I like, but since it cannot rely on horses and landscapes, it relies on its thoughtful dialogue to convey all its drama,” Duprey said. “The script offers fantastic opportunities for actors to really show off their skills.”
Lawrence resident Sabrina Duprey, an award-winning actor who has performed in more than 35 productions across Indiana, plays Hallie Jackson, the young proprietor of the town’s Prairie Belle saloon, the center of activity and much of the ensuing friction.
Sabrina Duprey enjoys the challenges of playing the complex character.
“Throughout the play, you see Hallie become softer and more ladylike,” said Sabrina Duprey, the director’s daughter. “Portraying those changes in a realistic way has been a challenging balance, but it’s very rewarding to see where she started and where she ends up.”
Sabrina Duprey also is a fan of the story.
“Westerns are not genre that is done often, so it was really fun being able to go to that time period,” she said. “But unlike some of the old Western films, this show isn’t cliche or cheesy. It’s extremely well-written and is definitely an ‘actor’s show.’
“The dialogue is exquisite. and the characters and their feelings are very realistic.”
Creating realism was Veronique Duprey’s top staging priority.
“For the play to feel authentic, costumes and props needed to be time-appropriate,” she said. “I worked hard on my research as a costumer to avoid things that were not of the right period. Fortunately, one of our actors had access to a collection of authentic guns and replicas from the period, and we chose to use blanks rather than sound effects to be as authentic as possible.”
Joining Sabrina Duprey in the eight-person main cast are Matt Hartzburg (Indianapolis) as Ransome Foster; R.C. Thorne (Fishers) as Bert Barricune; Xavier Jones (Indianapolis) as Jim “The Reverend” Mosten; Adam Davis (Elwood) as Liberty Valance; Kevin Shadle (Fishers) as Marshal Johnson; Cody Holloway (Noblesville) as Jake Dowitt/Deputy; and narrator Tom Smith (Westfield).
The play, written by Jethro Compton based on Johnson’s short story, contains loud gunshots and strong language.
“My first goal is for the audience to enjoy the play,” Veronique Duprey said. “But I also hope they can find in this piece important messages about acceptance and the honor that lies in self-sacrifice.”