Panache Theatrical Productions presents the classic cowboy tale of Liberty Valance onstage at North Front Theatre in downtown Wilmington. Actor Robin Dale Robinson relishes playing the outlaw, Liberty, against Bradley Coxe's law-and-order hero from the east, Ransom Foster.
There are only 7 performances running August 23 through September 1. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30pm; Sunday at 3:00pm. Note, there is only one Sunday performance (August 26). Tickets are available at the Box Office or online. Direct questions to Managing Director Holli Saperstein via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Listen above to Director Steve Vernon, actors Robin Dale Robinson and Bradley Coxe, and actress Jen Ingulli talk about the show. See our extended conversation-from backstage, onstage and even in the men's restroom-below.
Steve: So this play is based on the film "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," which is based on the short story "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." All three of them are their own thing, but they all have the same story aspects.
Basically, you have a gentleman who's from the east. He's been found beaten up in the desert by an outlaw named Liberty Valance, and the man who finds them brings them into town to a saloon where he knows that the female saloon owner will at least help them with the guy. This gentleman from the east, Ransome Foster, ends up staying in town and opening up a school, his primary student being an older black man named Jim who's good friends with Holly, the saloon owner. And, not to give anything away, but there are repercussions for him, including an African American in his school… that gentleman meets a violent end, which sets up an ultimate battle between good and evil, between Liberty Valance and Ransom Foster.
And at the same time, you have a love triangle between Bert Barricune, the man who found Ransome Foster in the desert, and Ransome and Holly, the saloon owner. Both those men fall in love with her and she has to make choices about them. And each of them have to make choices about how much they're willing to sacrifice on their own part. Because they love her so much.
Gina: This is a true story, right?
Steve: It's actually based on a Shakespeare play called Twelfth Night. [<-- fake news]
Gina: I am not going in that bathroom. Oh my G--. Hi Robin.
Gina: Lovely Room.
Robin: Yeah, it's one of the cooler room that's in the theater and it's quiet.
Gina: Indeed. So Robin. You are playing Liberty Valance.
Robin: Yes, I am. I sure am. It's one of the first non-musicals I've done in a long time. I think the last one I did was for Lou Criscuolo over at Big Dawg, and we did That Championship Season. A lot of people think that I don't know how to do anything other than a musical. And hopefully this will prove the naysayers wrong.
Gina: Tell me about your character.
Robin: Liberty Valance. He is, for the lack of a better word, a dinosaur. He sees what's coming: law and order. And for the longest time, he and others like him had been ruling the west. They take what they want, they take it however they can get it, and it's all about power.
Robin: You want to get out of here, go to the women's bathroom?
Gina: This is fine.
Robin: It's all about power and money to him and where he sees himself at the end of his life and he's not gonna let anyone get in the way of his dream of being a rich man. Well, law in order to come into town and kind of put a wrench in that machinery and having people learn how to read and how to write, only educates them and they all become enemies, those that become educated. So he's a great bad guy and there were many like him in the west at that time. Playing a bad guy is fun for an actor. Ask any of us. It's like playing a crazy person. You have so many places to go with the character and you can get away with it. Whereas if you're the hero, you are bound by the hero character or he wouldn't do this, he wouldn't do that, a lot of boundaries. Not with the bad guy. And there are many times far more rich and character than are your more basic characters of those leaning towards hero.
Gina: What do you think about the storytelling that's going on in this production and in this script?
Robin: I am really curious, and I'm going to wait until after this is all over because I don't want to be influenced. I want to remain true to the script as written. I'm going to read, very soon going to read, the short story where all this is based. At first when I read this play, I went, oh, this is kind of simple. And then as we delve further into it, I realized, no, this is classic and it's got some complexities to it in a simple way presented and in many ways it's clear cut and it defines good and bad and the reasons for everyone's existence in this play. And it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I can understand why back in the day, back in the fifties or whatnot, this short story became quite the rage, written by a woman. This play is written by a British guy and his father, evidently-according to Steve our director-his father, he had done some research was really into westerns. And so all of this kind of culminates into a British look at Westerns, but it follows the same old formula that we've seen over and over and over again in Westerns on television or movies.
Gina: And it's fun.
Robin: Oh, it's real fun. It's real fun. I'm enjoying it and I hope the audiences, when they come and see it, I hope they enjoy too.
Gina: Excellent. Thank you, Robin.
Robin: It's been fun being in the bathroom with you, the first time you’ve ever done an interview and the first time I've ever done an interview in a men's room.
Gina: And here, I just interviewed Robin in the men's bathroom, but I think we can stay here. Go ahead and introduce yourself.
Bradley: Bradley Cox, playing Ransome Foster.
Gina: Who is Ransom Foster?
Bradley: Ransome Foster is the tender foot from the east, from New York. So he is the fish-out-of-water character. He is going into what he thinks is basically a Gary Cooper movie. And he realizes that the real west is much more brutal and scary and not something that he anticipated.
Gina: The show starts with him being having been beaten, right?
Bradley: Yes, that's right. He gets beaten pretty badly. And that's when he first realized not, not so much that he got beat up, but that there were, but the blame fell on him for getting beat up more so than the person that was doing the beating. So that's, I think that's the first time that he realizes that this is different than what it should be or what I expect it to be.
Gina: So there's no justice in that situation. There's no justice in him getting beaten and then being blamed for it.
Bradley: Yeah, I think or there's certainly no law, which is a little different from justice, and I think that when he explains it to, you know, the “good guys,” they don't see a violation of justice there. Again, so it's sort of a different definition maybe than what he had. Yeah.
Gina: And how does he become the hero of the story?
Bradley: I think he is exposed to that violence and he realizes that he can either run away and be basically alone, like he's been his entire life, or he can stay and stand up for something and probably die, but he will at least have made the decision, I think to maybe to not be alone. If that makes sense.
Gina: Do you think that's his main motivation, to avoid loneliness?
Bradley: I think that's one of the key things. I think he's, he's all by himself. He wanders west with really no good idea of why he's going. There's nothing that's tying him down and then when he gets there, that's when he realizes there are people that do care about him. And I think it's the first time he's ever had that and realizes that there has to be justice, going back, so there has to be justice the way he thinks there should be, but he can't rely on anybody else to administer that but himself. And even if he, you know, even if he fails, even if he dies, he will have made the attempt. And it's almost like, if he fails, then the next guy coming down will not, or the next guy after that.
Gina: Ransome has a love interest.
Bradley: That's correct. Yes. Hallie Jackson. So she is unlike any woman that he's ever met, I think, and I think that's the initial attraction. It really is an opposites attract, I think at that point. But he's attracted to her spark and her power and her independence and self sufficiency and it's somebody that he probably could have only met in a frontier setting like that.
Gina: But it's a love triangle.
Bradley: Well, right. Yeah, there is the old cowboy that’s also in love with Hallie and she certainly loves him. And they-on paper-they're the ones that should work. They're from the same place. They're from the same background. They understand each other. They care about the same things. But there just seems to be some kind of spark missing there. You'll have to ask Jen about that.
Gina: Is that guy who kind of her lover when you meet her?
Bradley: I don't think he knows how close the relationship is. I don't know if he knows that it's physical or not. It may be, it may not be. I think he certainly knows that they care for each other and he also knows that they're not really together either. I think it's sort of a, so, yeah, I mean I think that is sort of an expectation that they would wind up together, and they probably, both Hallie and Burt the cowboy probably expect that to happen. We do expect that to happen and then when I come in, it just stirs up everything and changes everything.
It's just a great story, I think, and it's got all of your motifs of your classic Western where you have the civilized east intruding on the frontier west and everybody sort of thinks, "well that's a good thing," right? More law, more civilization, you know, that's all good. But there's always just a little bit of sadness for what you lose and that sort of extreme freedom that the west represents. It's almost like, well, we know this is what we have to do, but we're also going to be sad about, about losing it and hope we can preserve some of it. So yeah, so it takes all of those sort of elements of the best westerns and puts it in onto one small stage.
Gina: Who's Hallie?
Jen: Hallie is the only girl in the play. She's a saloon owner in Two Trees. She's had a rough life. Her brothers died. Her folks are dead. She's amongst all these men around her. She's rough and tough. Bold and brassy. Has to hold her own.
Gina: It sounds like a fun role to play.
Jen: It is. It's a great role. She's really independent and self sufficient. I love it.
Gina: And she has a cowboy friend.
Jen: She does. Burt Barricune has been her friend and, in his eyes, love interest all of these years, but he's really a true, true friend in the truest sense of friendship. And then of course enters a newbie, Ransome Foster from the east, and he mixes it up for our tiny little town of Two Trees.
Gina: What do you think that Hallie is attracted to in Ransome?
Jen: I think that Ransome sees something in her actually, that she's never seen herself, as a spark. There's some kind of life beyond this small town grind of just rough and tough. And Ransome brings a level of intellect and education and things that she never thought would even excite her and all of a sudden he sees this in her and I think it really helps her feel good about herself.
Gina: Do you kill Liberty Valance?
Jen: I can't tell you that.
Gina: Okay. Would you like to say anything else about the story?
Jen: It's a beautiful, beautiful story about human sacrifice and love for each other. It's a great story.
Gina: Thank you. Alright. I'm pretty much done. But, um, who killed Liberty Valance?