When the sleepy summer colony of Hancock Point, Maine, was hit by a string of sophisticated robberies in the 1970s, the townspeople took matters into their own hands, starting the state’s first volunteer police force. Playwright Sanford Phippen, who grew up in Hancock, was attending graduate school at Syracuse University at the time. What surprised him more than the robberies was the eagerness with which his family members and former neighbors refashioned themselves as police officers, donning police uniforms and patrolling the streets at night.

“I couldn’t believe everyone was doing it,” he said. “It was the thing to do.”

Phippen captured the humorous side of this moment in time in his 1982 collection of short stories “The Police Know Everything,” which he later adapted into a play. On March 15, Phippen joined a cast from Senior College for a reading in the Abbott Room of the Belfast Public Library, sponsored by the Belfast Maskers and directed by Charlotte Herbold.

The action centers on the fictional town of Taunton Point, Maine, unfolding over four acts, dedicated to “The Women,” “The Men,” “The Summer People” and “The Returned Native.” Through Phippen’s lens, the robberies serve as a backdrop for a slice-of-life view of Maine in which everyone is lovingly skewered. The novice police officers only serve to exaggerate the degree to which everyone knows everyone else’s business.

When one of the locals objects to some of the practices of the volunteer force, saying, “You can’t have secret police in a free society,” the response from self-appointed patrolwoman Bunny Crowley is matter-of-fact, “You can if you have secret criminals,” she says.

In one scene, an old timer takes a stab at what she sees as the excesses of the younger generation. “In my days it was a big treat to go to Bangor to go to the movies,” she says, then after a moment’s reflection adds, “Well, it still is.”

In a later scene Birdie Teal, a well-cultured summer resident, waltzes into the public library looking for works by P.D. James and Anthony Trollope, among others. When the librarian — announced as the first-ever native to hold the summer librarian position — suggests Stephen King’s new book, “The Shining,” Teal takes a jab at King saying, he’s “like a 14-year-old boy writing from camp.”

Phippen played the character “Grif” Griffin, based on his own father. The playwright spoke before the reading and signed copies of several of his books afterward. Incidentally, in attendance, but not related to the production, was Phippen’s friend and fellow actor Gunnar Hansen, who played the part of Leatherface in the 1974 slasher film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Monday night’s reading of “The Police Know Everything,” was the third of four scheduled readings in the Belfast Maskers’ third annual “four-in-four nights” series. Previous readings included “The Good Doctor” by Neil Simon, and an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s novel “The Secret Garden.”

On Friday, March 19 the Maskers present the final reading in the series, “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski,” described as “a work of satirical fan fiction answering the age-old question ‘What if Shakespeare wrote TBL [the Coen Brothers 1998 film “The Big Lebowski”]?'” The reading will be held at the Abbott Room of the Belfast Free Library, 7 p.m. Admission is free.

VillageSoup/The Republican Journal Reporter Ethan Andrews can be reached at 207-338-3333 x107 or by email, eandrews@villagesoup.com