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NEW MILFORD — Theatreworks New Milford has raised the bar at Prairie Belle Saloon high, with the East Coast premiere production of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Impeccably directed by Richard Pettibone, the brilliant performances in this show have set a new standard.
Sporting just about the coolest name ever, Liberty Valance (played by Francis A. Daly) haunts the small town of Twotrees, somewhere out west in the USA. He is a heartless bad guy with a gun and a posse.
Mr Valance has had a run-in with Ransome Foster (James Dietter), an academic just passing through as he explores the wild west. Left for dead, Foster is carried by local good guy Bert Barricune (Mark Feltch) to the Prairie Belle, where he is revived.
The Prairie Belle is run by proprietress Hallie Jackson (Ali Bernhardt). Hallie is a real gal. She takes absolutely no guff from anyone, ever. Men from town pass through her swinging doors all day and night while she plies them with booze and common sense.
Hallie is assisted by her younger “brother” James Mosten (Gary Cook), a foster child who was taken in by her now deceased parents. They are truly close and protective of each other.
The law in Twotrees is enforced by the timid Marshal Johnson (Jonathan Ross). Marshall Johnson excels at turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the murderous Mr Valance.
Mr Foster develops a liking for the town and its inhabitants, most particularly Miss Jackson and Mr Mosten, who has a mind like a steel trap. He stays and educates them, all the while knowing that Liberty Valance is hot on his trail.
The action builds to a disturbing turn and an awesome conclusion.
To a one, this cast is terrific. As the barkeep Hallie, Ms Bernhardt gives a performance that is utterly stunning, as does Mark Feltch, of the mellifluous voice, as Bert Berricune. These two are worthy of substantial accolades.
Gary Cook is sweet and earnest as the brilliant Jim Mosten. He is completely genuine.
Playing Ransome Foster, James Dietter offers a layered portrayal of a man caught in a nightmare while his prayers are being answered. His performance is charged with anguish and a seriousness which reveals the soulful nature of his character.
As the negligent Marshall, Jonathan Ross skillfully conveys the defensive nature of his part. The townspeople — played by Tom Libonate, John Bolster (who plays lovely music on his guitar) and Rufus de Rahm — all add poignancy.
Francis A. Daley is scary good as the cold blooded killer Liberty Valance . Mr Daley’s precise timing and evil, deliberate delivery has a chilling effect.
The set was designed by Scott Wyshynski. It is excellently drawn and executed, providing a worn and familiar feel to the saloon.
The costumes, particularly those of Miss Jackson, lend additional authenticity to the production. Musical selections enhanced the atmosphere.
Tragically, this is Mr Pettibone’s final directorial effort. A master of the craft, he will be missed.
It was hard, fast livin’ in the wild west. Emotions ran high and tempers were hot. These conditions are beautifully depicted in this excellent production. Do not miss a chance to belly up to the bar at the Prairie Belle and visit with these fascinating folk from another time.
Performances continue weekends until October 8, with Friday and Saturday curtain at 8 pm. There is also a matinee scheduled for Sunday, October 2, at 2 pm.
Tickets are $23 adults, $18 for children, and can be reserved by calling 860-355-6863 or at theatreworks.us.
TheatreWorks New Milford is at 5 Brookside Avenue, just off Route 202 in New Milford.