David Holthouse’s stunning ‘This American Life’ tale comes to the New York stage.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
David Holthouse's This American Life episode, about seeking out the man who raped him as a child 25 years later, is a heavy tale in any form. In Stalking the Bogeyman, adapted and directed by Markus Potter, all of those 25 years are condensed onto one stage, with six actors and 85 minutes of time. It's an extraordinary performance, one that will challenge everything you believe about right and wrong, grief and childhood memories.
The play is narrated by David at the end of his story, but takes you chronologically through his life from his family's move to Alaska at age 7 to his final conversation with his "Bogeyman," the older boy he once looked up to. The aging of the characters is done extraordinarily well--Roderick Hill plays 7-year-old David with as much dedication as the 32-year-old professional journalist he becomes, while Erik Heger fully embodies both the overactive teenager who first befriends him and the washed-up middle-aged man the Bogeyman becomes in the end.
Stalking the Bogeyman hides nothing. It tells Holthouse's dark story in all its gritty, true detail, and even the moments of graphic violence are described extensively. In some ways, it's more monologue come to life than it is a play, maintaining its faithfulness to the source material. But that doesn't keep the piece from making a strong impact on its audience.
This play is all about what's simmering below the surface, and its most powerful moments are when violence is just hinted at, such as when David casually chats on the phone with his father while cleaning the gun he has purchased. The extreme violence of his fantasy sequences, when he imagines actually taking revenge, are startling and uncomfortable, a strong contrast with the inhibition of the rest of the piece. A subtle musical score adds to the sense of unease.
As David's story jumps through time, in and out of the framing narrative where he tells us his tale, we get the sense that all time is present at once on stage. An ensemble of four transforms from the two sets of parents into a myriad of other characters--David's therapist, his Little League coach and even McGruff the Crime Dog. What remains central is how these six people's lives have remained intimately connected because of one act of violence.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this production is the set itself, a wood-paneled, cluttered masterpiece that contains all of the detritus of 25 years of life and constantly evokes the basement where the act occurred. Different cubbies are lit up in different scenes to represent various locations, from the Crawfords' house in Alaska to David's office in Denver to a gang den in Arizona. And while it may have been clearer if the production had done more to distinguish between those locations, the immense detail, down to the photos and notes on the cork boards scattered across the back of the stage, cannot be overemphasized.
You should know what you're getting into when you go to see this play. But if you are interested in seeing how they brought this shocking and disturbing radio story to life, it's an unforgettable experience. The Bogeyman has come to life.
Stalking the Bogeyman plays at New World Stages through March 1. For more information, check out their website.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.