Sam Shepard musical helped unite Point Reyes hippies and establishment

08/03/2017

Sam Shepard’s plays have been produced in New York City and London, but it was a Point Reyes Station production that helped unite a community grappling with a changing identity. Mr. Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who died last week at age 73, lived in Mill Valley from 1974 to 1982. While there, he crossed paths with Gene Ptak, a director and school teacher living in Point Reyes Station. In 1975, Mr. Ptak brought one of Mr. Shepard’s pre-fame works, “The Tooth of Crime,” to the newly established Dance Palace for a production by the Palace Players ensemble. The musical told the tale of a battle between two rock stars, and promotional posters placed around town warned parents to leave their children at home due to nudity and rough language, reading: “X-rated, no shit.” Several residents were offended by the brash language and began tearing the posters down. “The Dance Palace hadn’t been in town very long and we had been referred to as the ‘local hippies,’” Carol Friedman, the community center’s founding director, said. “There was a certain amount of suspicion of newcomers and how they were changing the town. And rightfully so: they saw a poster that said ‘X-rated’ and thought it was a pornographic show.” Mr. Ptak and Howard Jacobsen, the poster’s graphic designer, issued an apology in the Light and the Point Reyes Downtown Businessmen’s Association called a special meeting to discuss the play. “It was challenging,” Ms. Friedman said. “But it was actually the beginning of an opening toward connection and positive communication for all of us as members of the community.” The show debuted on Sept. 5, 1975 (it was the West Coast premiere performance) with a cast featuring locals Michael Wilbourn, Charlie Morgan, Lisa Doron, Cathy Llewellyn and Steve Marshall. It sold out every night. In a review, the Light wrote, “Shepard paints an ugly picture of the rock music industry, throws in some warmed over Nietzsche about the power of the will and recalls a bit of the history of rock and roll.” Ms. Doron remembered how the play defied boundaries. “As a result of Gene’s vision, we were doing something thoughtful and taking a risk,” she said. (At one point in the performance, the actors simultaneously bared their bottoms to the audience.) “And Sam’s vision was completely new and unique.” One night during the show’s run, Mr. Shepard, appeared at the door and was almost denied entrance because it was sold out. (“I had the distinction of almost turning Sam Shepard away from seeing his own play,” Ms. Friedman said.) Elisabeth Ptak designed the costumes for the musical and said the playwright was pleased with the performance. “He loved it and went over to the Western with us afterwards,” she said.