COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Derrick Brown, Katie Doyle and Joe Moore star in "Unlikely Lawman," on stage at Mamiya Theatre.
Joe Moore's new play adapts "The Lawmen" by Robert Broomall
A chance purchase in an airport convenience store.
An author who'd kept his number listed in his local telephone directory.
Joe Moore in "Unlikely Lawman"
» Place: Mamiya Theatre
» Time: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, through June 17
» Tickets: $35; $30 for seniors and military; $25 for 25 and younger
» Call: 988-6131 or online at manoavalleytheatre.com
If Joe Moore had picked another book, or if Robert Broom's telephone number not been listed, Moore's latest play, "Unlikely Lawman," would never have been written.
"I was coming back from a vacation in Florida visiting my dad (in 1994), and during the change-over of planes in Atlanta to go from Atlanta to Honolulu, I walked into a bookstore ... and for some reason this little paperback Western jumped out at me.
"It was called 'The Lawmen,' by Robert Broomall," he said. "I wasn't familiar with the writer, but it looked like a light little Western read (and) I've always been a fan of Westerns, so I started reading it on the flight back to Honolulu."
Moore finished the book on the flight, and turned to the back jacket cover, where a little blurb about the author mentioned that he lived in Baltimore, Moore said last week as he prepared for the final week of rehearsal for his stage adaptation "Unlikely Lawman," which will run for two weekends at Mamiya Theatre. As with all of Moore's theatrical productions, this one is a benefit with the proceeds going to support Manoa Valley Theatre.
Moore said he called Baltimore directory information "on a lark" and asked for Robert Broomall's number. To his surprise, he got it and the two talked for more than two hours. That's how he was able to buy the stage and film rights to Broomall's story.
Moore weighed the costs of developing "The Lawmen" as an indie film and decided that it made more sense financially to write it for the stage.
"It's a traditional Western drama, not a spoof or a comedy or a musical, and I think it's a compelling, realistic adult story," he says.
COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Tina Shelton witnesses a fight between villain Allen Cole and hero Joe Moore in "Unlikely Lawman."
IN THE PLAY, Moore stars as Clay Chandler, a former Confederate officer with a dark past, who accepts the job of town marshal in the tough mining town of Topaz in the Arizona Territory. The year is 1872, and the point of a gun is the only law many townspeople understand. That puts Chandler in a tough situation when he arrests Vance Hopkins for murder, because most of the town guns are on the side of Hopkins' wealthy and ruthless brother, Wes. When Wes gives Chandler 24 hours to release Vance from jail and drop the charges, it looks like Chandler's options are to step aside or die.
Chandler refuses to step aside, and discovers that almost everyone in town is either on Wes Hopkins' payroll or too scared to get involved. This leaves Chandler standing alone until an ex-slave, Essex Johnson, volunteers to serve as his deputy.
"When I read the book, various elements of the plot reminded me of the classic films 'High Noon' and 'Rio Bravo,' and there was a flavor of 'Lethal Weapon' in the Old West," Moore says, drawing a parallel between the relationship between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the "Lethal Weapon" series and the relationship that develops between Chandler and Johnson in "Unlikely Lawman."
"Even from the first reading, I really liked the story and the way it unfolded. Of course, in adapting it for the stage I've made it predominately an interior Western in the tradition of Gregory Peck's film 'The Gunfighter' or Paul Newman's 'The Left-handed Gun,' and I'd say 50 percent of the play takes place either in a saloon or a jail house."
That doesn't mean, Moore adds, that the story is all talk and no action.
"As you'd expect in a play, there's more plot and characterization than physical action, but everyone who's read the script or seen our rehearsals has been surprised at how much action there is in the form of fisticuffs or gunfights -- so much so, that early on when I started huddling with our director, Bill Ogilvie, we hired stunt coordinator Colin Fong to choreograph the fights and gun play. Not only to make (the fights) look good, but to keep us actors safe," Moore explained, adding that he "really underestimated the physical toll" that the fighting would take on him.
"I'm 58 now, so that probably has a lot to do with it. ... If I'd waited much longer (to do the show), I'd be playing the (older) Walter Brennan character."
Derrick Brown co-stars as the ex-slave, with Matthew Pederson as Wes Hopkins, Allen Cole as Vance Hopkins, and Michael deYcaza as a sadistic killer on Hopkins' payroll.
"I think the play takes us back to the time when a man -- if he was strong enough and lucky enough -- could be the master of his own destiny, and we know because of the complicated world we live in today (that) those days are long gone. We can return to them briefly via the Western, and I like going on that journey as an audience member and as an actor. ... I would certainly pay to go see it if I wasn't in it."