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Theatre Presents ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’

Emporia State University Theatre is presenting “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” by Jethro Compton. The play premiered in 2014 at the Park Theatre in London and is based on the 1953 short story of the same name by Dorothy M. Johnson, a longtime educator at the University of Montana in Missoula. A celebrated writer of Western fiction, Johnson’s other titles include “A Man Called Horse” and “The Hanging Tree.” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” will play in the Ronald Q. Frederickson Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 through 30, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Dec. 1.

The play is a classic Western tale of good versus evil. It follows the story of Ransome Foster, an educated man from the East, who winds up in the western town of Twotress. Forced by circumstances, he stays and begins to change to the town through education. This catches the eye of the outlaw Liberty Valance who seeks to restore “order” to Twotrees by eliminating anything, and anyone, that threatens the “norms of society” as he views it.

This production is under the direction of Ashley Kobza, a freelance theatre artist based in Nebraska. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska-Kearney before earning her MFA from Ohio State University. Kobza was a member of the ESU Summer Theatre company in 2008, appearing in productions of “Bell, Book and Candle” and “I Love You Because.” For the past six years she has been teaching in San Diego, California. 

Kobza wants the audience to know that this production “isn’t going to be the Liberty Valance from the big screen.” She attributes most of that to the playwright who based his adaptation very strongly on Johnson’s original story.  

“The play mirrors a big chunk of our current sociopolitical climate fairly accurately,” Kobza said. “One man has most of the money and all of the power. And the way he keeps that money and power is through stopping progress dead — literally, dead — in its tracks. He doesn't want equality, legislation or education in the town as all of those are a definite threat to his power. Keep people divided and uneducated and you keep the power; this isn't a new concept and one doesn't have to look hard to see it demonstrated in our very own country.” 

The show will feature the scenic design of Nancy J. Pontius along with the designs of three ESU students. Andrew Ralston (Topeka) is the costume designer for the show under the supervision of Susie Williams. Matt Mahr (Overland Park) will design the lights while Evan Grantham (Girard) is the sound designer. It is under the technical direction of Chris Lohkamp, and Amanda Dura is the costume shop manager. Mollie McClanahan (Topeka) is the production stage manager, and Stephen Holbert (Olathe) is the assistant stage manager. Isabella Harvey (McPherson) is the propmaster.

The cast of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” includes Tyler Lang (Wichita) in the title role of Liberty Valance alongside Joseph Benchama (Wichita), Elizabeth Tate (Sand Springs, Oklahoma), Jack Greenwood (Valley Center), Brogan Falls (LeRoy), Harriel Mack (Newton) and Ian Malcom (Emporia). It features an ensemble of characters played by Dustin Bittel (Ellis), Parker Hernandez (Hutchison), Gabe Hernandez (Wichita), Ben Johnson (Wichita) and Weiqi Meng (Beijing, China).

The technical crew for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” includes Delaney Dold (Emporia), Ben Ewing (Stilwell), Tad Gilbert (Andover), Tim Hardman (Wichita), Erin McNeley-Phelps (Lenexa), McKinzie Mitchell (Ottawa), McKenzie Needham (Andover), Yerim Noh (Pohang, South Korea), Brian Percival (Olathe), Emily Rayson (Ottawa), Laney Smith (Belle Plaine), Rose “Kodee” Stokes (Cimarron), Isabella Tate (Leavenworth), Rose Wahlmier (Burlington), Cameron White (Meriden), Kyle Whitney (Burlington) and Rylee Williams (Surprise, AZ). 

The front of house staff includes Miranda Kimble (Mullinville), Justin Scheck (Gardner) and Jaeyun Im (Pohang, South Korea).

Tickets purchased in advance for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” cost $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $5 for students. Tickets purchased at the door on the day of a performance will increase to $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for students. Tickets for all ESU Theatre productions can be purchased online at Tickets are also available in person from the University Ticket Office in the Memorial Union or by calling 620-341-6378.