COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Marshal Joe Moore battles men in black hats in "Unlikely Lawman."
‘Lawman’ is Moore’s best work
The first time Joe Moore appears on stage in his Manoa Valley Theatre fundraiser production of "Unlikely Lawman," it's hard to decide whether to applaud, as sitcom audiences often do when the star of the show first makes an appearance, or to laugh.
Joe Moore in "Unlikely Lawman":
» Place: Mamiya Theatre
» Time: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
» Tickets: $35 general; $30 for seniors and military; $25 ages 25 and younger
» Call: 988-6131 or online at manoavalleytheatre.com
To say more would spoil the unintentional surprise that Moore, director Bill Ogilvie and their makeup people have prepared. The important thing is that after that potentially problematic moment, Moore and his major supporting players make this original, albeit formulaic, Western show one worth seeing for genre fans. Moore's original script is close enough to author Robert Broomall's 1993 paperback novel, "The Lawmen," to satisfy anyone familiar with the original story; Moore's changes either accommodate the restrictions imposed by the stage, or bring the action closer to the proven dramatic template provided by "High Noon," "Rio Bravo" and "Rio Lobo."
It is, overall, Moore's best work to date as a playwright. He gives a solid performance as an actor, as well.
Moore stars as Clay Chandler, a former Confederate officer with a troubled past, who accepts the job of marshal in a lawless Arizona mining town. Chandler finds himself in a dangerous situation after he arrests a local gunman, Vance Hopkins, for accidentally killing a black man. When Hopkins' wealthy and ruthless brother, Wes, gives Chandler 24 hours to drop the charges and release Vance from the town jail, most of the townspeople expect Chandler to step aside.
But Chandler refuses to release Vance, even after he discovers that anyone who isn't on Wes Hopkins' payroll one way or another is too scared to get involved. That leaves Chandler standing alone until an ex-slave, Essex Johnson, volunteers to serve as his deputy.
Moore, a veteran actor, plays Chandler as a variation of himself. The major difference is Chandler's slight southern accent; Moore keeps it in place throughout the show. Derrick Brown (Essex Johnson) kick-starts the action as the fast-talking ex-slave who takes the suicidal job as Chandler's deputy. The banter between Moore and Brown is some of the best dialogue in the show.
Allen Cole (Vance Hopkins) makes a great third wheel in several scenes as a dangerous but basically inept killer who adds menace in several scenes. He's equally effective in providing comic relief in others.
Bob Jones (Milo McCarty) is the most memorable of the various bystanders. Katie Doyle also stands out as the local prostitute who becomes Chandler's secret ally.
Matthew Pederson (Wes Hopkins) makes a welcome return to the local stage with his polished performance as the deceptively polite and sophisticated gang leader. We might ask why Hopkins wouldn't have allowed the corrupt local judge go through the motions of holding a trial and then acquit his brother of the charges, but if Hopkins did that, we would be denied an elaborately choreographed shootout.
Johanna Morriss (set design) gives this fundraiser production the look of a major well-funded community theater show. A fortress-like jail and a substantial-looking saloon are separated by a length of dusty street; Morriss' judicious use of set pieces suffices to suggest other locales. Stunt coordinator Colin C.L. Fong's direction of numerous gunfights and other violence is another important asset in bringing Moore's classic tale of right and wrong to life.