Gold Rush country. Wartime, 1944. Justice and community fragmentation in a climate of fear. A local war hero is killed while hunting. Suspicion falls on “Wild Bill” Ebaugh, a long-haired eccentric rumored to run naked in the woods, have many lovers, poach livestock and serenade the hills. A bounty is posted, a young man shoots him dead and collects three hundred bucks. Justice or murder? Was Ebaugh a dangerous psychotic or a gentle giant? The ensuing firestorm of controversy cast a long shadow over Nevada County for decades. The play centers on three families: those of the murder victim, the relentless sheriff, and the young bounty hunter.
Written by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller, based on workshops with the Foothill Theatre ensemble
Directed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller
Two acts; 5m/4w; multi-location unit set.
Produced by Foothill Theatre in collaboration with The Independent Eye, premiering May 5, 2005 at the Nevada Theatre (Nevada City, CA). Produced by Barter Theatre (Abingdon, VA), directed by Richard Rose, premiering Feb. 8, 2007. Total of 55 performances.
From the program:
Long Shadow was created over a span of eighteen months in collaboration with the Foothill acting ensemble. How that all works is a story that takes more than the space we have to tell it. But we’ll try to tell it fast.
We first heard the story from Gary Wright, who’d dug through clippings at the Historical Library. We pored over those clippings and strung together a loose scenario. Who were the people, real or imagined, whose experience within this incident was worth exploring? What scenes did their existence imply? And then we drove the 3 1/2 hours out to Nevada City every couple of months to do two days’ improvisational exploration with the actors, making those characters and situations real.
Some of the scenic dynamics and dialogue come straight out of those improvs. Some come from the keyboard of the playwrights. The oddity is that everything seems to spring from some common core. Who can remember where this or that line came from? It only sticks if it’s from somewhere a bit outside us, from a reality embedded in those hills.
The themes of the play are pretty obvious. We live in a time when fear is a political commodity, in a time when the headline cases—O. J. Simpson, Mumia Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Terry Schiavo—are lightning rods that strike off multiple realities in the body politic. We live in a war time. That was 1944, and now. It’s for the play to say the rest of what wants to be said.
We are immensely grateful to many people. To Philip Sneed, whose vision and intense work over the years has engendered this marvelous ensemble. To Gary Wright for giving us the story. To Scott Gilbert, wearing far more hats than he has heads to fit, but coping courageously. To folks who are not in the present cast but who brought deep insights to the creation. To our designers. To the entire ensemble for finding us housing, scrounging the money, dealing with all the unromantic daily hassles of running a theatre, and then, from 2 to 6 and 7 to 10 p.m., plunging unabashedly and maniacally into the uncharted depths of these characters.
To Nevada County, which we’ve come to love.
And to our late friend Adam, whose madness, pain and ecstasy has perhaps given us some faint understanding of that red-bearded demon, William Ebaugh.
—Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
—Jim Carnes, Sacramento Bee
William “Wild Bill” Ebaugh was a proto-hippie, a long-haired, hairy guy who lived in the woods, practiced naturism (and a little poaching) and was found enchanting by many women. Or: Bill Ebaugh was a difficult guy, a man who had a lot of run-ins with the law, definitely had problems with authority and was feared by many.
Either way, he’s dead, and his death and the events surrounding it are at the heart of Long Shadow, an engrossing drama that had its world premiere Friday as part of the Foothill Theatre Company’s New Voices of the Wild West.
The play is credited to Elvet Konrad, but it is a collaboration among Elizabeth Fuller and Conrad Bishop (of the Sebastopol-based experimental theater project The Independent Eye) and the Foothill Theatre Company ensemble. It was developed during 1 1/2 years of historical research, improvisation and writing.
The finished product is an amazing piece of theater. Based on a true story that is still talked about in the Nevada City environs, Long Shadow is sure to foster more debate. In 1944, a local war hero home on leave dies under mysterious circumstances. Suspicion immediately falls on Bill Ebaugh. The town is divided, with some saying the eccentric Ebaugh wouldn’t have committed such a crime and others calling for his blood. A bounty for Ebaugh’s capture dead or alive is offered, and a barely employed local carpenter named Woodrow Purvis kills Ebaugh and claims the $300 bounty. “I didn’t do it for the reward,” Purvis insists. “I did it for everybody. For everything we believe in.”
Ebaugh was unarmed when Purvis killed him, yet a coroner’s jury upheld Purvis’ contention that the killing was justified. Some called Purvis a hero; others vilified him.
The play explores the roles of fear and poverty in daily lives, the toll of vigilante justice and how we “live with what’s done” once it’s done. But central questions remain: Did a community make “dangerous” a guy who was merely “different”? Who bears the true guilt in that death?
Andrea Bechert’s effective scenic design features huge hanging blowups of historical newspaper clippings about the events. Clare Henkel’s authentic costuming adds to the atmosphere and Les Solomon’s lighting design is essential to the shadow play that advances and enhances the story.
The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, but Philip Charles Sneed, at the center of it all as Sheriff Carl Timmerman, is remarkable. He creates a character torn between doubt and certainty, a troubled man looking for reason in unreasonable situations. Gary Alan Wright as Lester, the deputy sheriff, gives heft and humanity to what could have been a supporting role (and as William Ebaugh, gives substance to a shadow).
All, however, contribute to what is one of the tightest, strongest acting ensembles around.
—Jeff Hudson, Sacramento News & Review
The year is 1944, with the war dragging on. A decorated veteran, recently returned from the Pacific, is killed in a hunting accident. Suspicion focuses on “Wild Bill” Ebaugh, a longhaired, bearded eccentric who’s had run-ins with the law and the loony bin, as well as many girlfriends. A $300 “dead or alive” reward is posted—big money for those days, especially in the Sierra Foothills, where unemployment (and underemployment) had run high ever since the gold rush had receded.
Did Ebaugh do it? Hard to say—he’s gunned down by a bounty hunter before he tells his side of the story. At 60 years removed, we moderns will never know for sure. Discussion has simmered in Nevada County for decades. What matters in Long Shadow (written by director Conrad Bishop and sound designer Elizabeth Fuller, as Elvet Konrad) is how the many shades of gray and layers of fear play out in a small community gripped by wartime shortages and a degree of paranoia: the way it crops up in conversations and even in people’s dreams. Some fear Ebaugh, or dislike him because he’s different. Others see him as a fall guy, strange but ultimately innocent.
The show features several excellent performances, including former artistic director Philip Charles Sneed as the sheriff—torn between his hunch that Ebaugh did it, the political necessity of “solving” the case of the murdered veteran, and the knowledge that he really doesn’t have much evidence against Ebaugh.
Also excellent is Gary Wright as the deputy sheriff, who’s less concerned with ethics than his boss is. (Wright’s rambling voice and projected shadow also portray Ebaugh, silhouetted on a huge scrim painted with see-through newspaper headlines; good work by designer Pamela Hodges.) Carolyn Howarth is also good as a desperate farm girl, fading into old-maid status. John Sousa and Karyn Casl play the bounty hunter and his wife, eking out a marginal living.
It’s not a perfect show. There were some line problems (not surprising, since the playwrights added new material on opening night). Fuller also might want to reconsider her sound design, which relies on snarling synthesizers to the point that it begins to resemble a negative political hit ad.
Such quibbles aside, Long Shadow is a handsome, engrossing original production. It’s also the current installment in Foothill Theatre’s New Voices of the Wild West series, now in its seventh year of presenting new plays with regional/Western themes. It’s a remarkable ongoing project, year after year, and there’s nothing else like it in the area.
—Gary Aday, Washington County News (Abington, VA)
Long Shadow is a dramatic retelling of a crime which occurred near Nevada City, California in 1944. The factual elements have been expertly shaped by playwrights Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller, and director Richard Rose has brought those historic events to life in a deft, economical production which does full justice to the material. This is an adult drama in every sense, a play for audiences who have encountered that forbidding territory wherein “the human heart is divided against itself” as uncertainty and ambiguity frustrate our desire to act decisively. This play raises fundamental questions, among which are: how much nonconformity can a society tolerate; how much proof is required for pronouncing guilt; how widespread is responsibility when one man acts upon an edict from a community’s officials; and how pure are our motives in any action we undertake?
The plot is set in motion when a young veteran, newly returned from military duty, is shot in the back while out hunting with his brother, with whom he had recently been quarreling. Local citizens, investigating the wild, forested foothills for evidence, discover a hidden cave which contains supplies and possessions belonging to an eccentric hermit, William Ebaugh, who has been arrested on several occasions—though never convicted—for rape and cattle thievery. He is a larger-than-life character, well over six feet in height and weighing over two hundred fifty pounds, vigorous, agile, and completely disdainful of social conventions and moral restraints. He has reportedly been seen running naked through the woods, and seems to have adopted quite literally the philosophy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; certainly, he delights in sounding his “barbaric yawp” over the roofs of Nevada County, but unlike “the good gray poet,” Ebaugh seems threatening to most people.
The sheriff and most prominent community leaders are immediately convinced that Ebaugh is the killer. In short order, a dead-or-alive warrant is issued for his apprehension, and the hermit is shot by a young local who is in need of the three hundred dollars offered as reward. After these events, Ebaugh’s slayer is coached by a coroner’s jury into believing that the killing was unavoidably done in self-defense. We, of course, know this is untrue, but we also know that in similar circumstances we might allow ourselves to be convinced that our actions have been righteous, if not heroic. For, as in all the best courtroom drama, it is we who are being weighed in the balance . . . and found wanting.
The Barter acting company has long been adept at depicting entire communities of people with only a few performers, and this ability is again on display here, aided greatly by the episodic, non-linear story line, multiple role-playing by the actors, and ingenious lighting design by Lori Fleenor, who also created the versatile stage which accommodates a constantly changing series of settings.
Particularly notable performances are given by Tom Angland, as the young man who kills Ebaugh, and Wendy Mitchell Piper who plays the wife who unwittingly goads him toward the act which will make him a hero to some, but which will eventually cast an inescapable shadow over his life, dreaming or awake. Eugene Wolf and Tricia Matthews are completely convincing as Sheriff Timmerman and his wife, and the scenes in their home invariably have the authenticity of a couple who are seldom at ease with each other, but who have made peace with their differences.
Rick McVey, Amy Baldwin, and Mike Ostroski are the family of the murdered veteran, never able to come to terms with each other or with their loss: Fred, a father who has sunk into depression; Ruby, a daughter who sees any hope of fulfillment slipping away as she cares for a household which has no appreciation for her; and Jamie, the son who has always felt overshadowed by his war-hero brother, and finds that his brother’s death continues to cast a shadow which can never exorcised while living in Nevada County, so Jamie seizes every flimsy excuse to get away from his stifling family. Frank Green doubles as another shadow, William Ebaugh, and as the sheriff’s perpetually disrespectful deputy, Lester; their moments of good-natured bickering provide comic relief in a situation which has little to laugh about. Matt Greenbaum and Seana Hollingsworth also play multiple roles with skill.
Long Shadow is a short, powerful drama, flawlessly constructed and unflinching as it confronts the complexities of the human condition. The high quality of this production entirely justifies its long run at Barter II, which will continue through April 15.