By Carson McKinney
Head west to the Prairie Belle Saloon this Valentine’s Day to see Oxford High School Theatre’s latest play, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.”
Based on a 1953 short story, which became a 1962 classic western, the play adaptation of “The Man who Shot Liberty Valence” takes place in an 1890 western territory seeking statehood and features outlaws like Liberty Valence who resist the confines of law and society, posing a central question of what is right and wrong in a lawless society.
“Our main character comes in contact with him (Liberty Valence), and it doesn’t go so well,” said OHS Theatre Director John Davenport. “He’s beaten up and left for dead, and that’s the start of the story. He’s picked up off the prairie and is brought into this saloon. This man is going to have to face Liberty Valence in a duel.”
OHS Senior Jacob Heuer, best known for his roles as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Reuben in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, plays Bert Barricune in the play. In the 1962 film version, John Wayne plays the same character, then named Tom Doniphan. Heuer says nailing the subtext of characters like those portrayed by and alongside John Wayne provided difficulty to OHS Theatre students.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves, because when we read it we knew that this piece was a very sophisticated piece because these characters that we portray aren’t just ‘I’m a cowboy; I’m rough and tough’ and ‘I’m a lawman; I’m educated’ and whatnot,” Heuer said. “The way that they are written, you can tell that they are real characters who have had pasts, presents and futures later on.”
Fitting for Valentine’s Day, the play is also a love story, according to OHS Senior Caroline Newsom. Newsom plays Hallie Jackson, proprietor of the Prairie Belle Saloon, in the play and becomes embroiled in a love triangle.
“It’s a really beautiful story about all sorts of things like change,” Newsom said.
OHS’s next and final production of their 2018-2019 season will be “Cotton Patch Gospel,” slated for April 18-20.
“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” opens on Valentine’s Day at 7:30 p.m. in the Kayla Mize Auditorium at Oxford Middle School. The play will run through Saturday. Tickets are $11.