Review: ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse

Angelica Potter

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse ends their summer season with the classic western ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. The play, written by Jethro Compton, is based on the short story by Dorothy M. Johnson. It has less in common with the popular western film of the same name that starred John Wayne, so don’t come to the theater expecting to see the film version play out on stage. This version is darker and grittier than many of the Hollywood Westerns audience members may be used to seeing. It is the tale of one educated man’s journey west and how he inadvertently becomes the hero of a small town called Twotrees. After surviving a difficult situation and facing impossible odds, he becomes the subject of a legend that changes his future and his life in ways he never expected.

Robert Vaughn, who recorded the narration for the English production of this script, is featured as the voice of the narrator in this production. His voice opens the show as the cast slowly makes their way onto the stage. The Prologue somberly began with the eight person cast singing in harmony, a bluesy feeling hymn accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, played by Nicholas Wilder. As they sang, they looked sadly towards the wooden box holding their friend and cowboy Bert Barricune. These first few minutes were some of the strongest in the show. What followed however, was a performance lacking in energy, urgency and at many times compelling believability.

Directed by Matt Cahoon, the play features many familiar faces as well as some new ones. Marshall Taylor Thurman takes on the role of New Yorker Ransome Foster, who, after a dangerous encounter with Liberty Valance (Nicholas Wilder), is rescued by Bert Barricune, played by Samuel Shurtleff. Foster is brought to Truetrees (circa 1890) where he meets saloon owner Hallie Jackson, played by Shanel Sparr, and her best friend Jim Mosten, played by Jabari Matthew. Rounding out the cast are Jason Plourde as Jake Dowitt/ Marshal Johnson and Andrew Burke as the Deputy.

The saloon set was designed by Andrew Stuart with assistance from Claire Beck. The costumes were designed by Lori McGinley with Hallie’s gown specially designed by Kat Middleton. Lighting was designed by Thom Beaulieu and sound was designed by Neil Pankhurst.

Running at just over two and a half hours including intermission makes this play one of the longest I have seen this summer season, and unfortunately it felt that long. The pace dragged at many points during the performance partially because of the writing and partially because of the multiple line flubs committed by the cast. However, these things did not keep most of the audience from laughing, applauding and overall enjoying the performance. ©


‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ plays at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse until September 9th. Performances are Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30pm with a matinee on September 4th at 2pm. Tickets range from $20-$34. For additional information and tickets visit 

Special Events from the Education Department:

Wednesday, September 6th - Talk-back
Following the performance, you’re invited for an informal discussion with the cast and creative team.

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Photo Credit: The Winnipesaukee Playhouse