In 2004, American writer and journalist David Holthouse wrote an article published in the Denver Westword. Entitled Stalking the Bogeyman, it detailed a plot Holthouse had made to kill a man who, 25 years earlier, had sexually assaulted him as a child. It was a story Holthouse later retold on a podcast of This American Life in 2011.
Holthouse and award-winning playwright Markus Potter, Artistic Director of theatre company NewYorkRep, subsequently created Stalking the Bogeyman for the stage, telling the story of a man concocting a plan to seek revenge against his ‘bogeyman’. On May 23, the play will have its Australian premiere at Sydney’s Old Fitz Theatre.
Potter vividly remembers first hearing Holthouse’s story on This American Life.
“I was so stunned, I had to pull my car over to avoid veering into oncoming traffic,” he tells Theatre People. “I felt like I had been hit right in the gut and needed a moment to process this incredibly raw, powerful and brutally honest story about a man fighting back against his rapist. As a new father of a young son, I asked myself, what would I do? What would any of us do if the unthinkable were to happen … And [I] was compelled to do something.”
Potter says he was “deeply attracted” to the “beauty” in Holthouse’s story.
“Holthouse exposes the darkest side of himself, in order to right a wrong and to prevent further wrongs,” he says. “He gives us a chance to talk about a frightening part of humanity, one that is hardly ever talked about, let alone displayed for everyone to see. David is a true American hero who rips his scabs off, time and again to help the world heal. He lends us courage and makes us believe in the possibility of healing and shedding our secrets.”
After hearing the podcast, Potter contacted Holthouse to discuss turning his account into a play.
“David had been approached by some movie studios that wanted to do all of these Hollywood-type things to his story and he repeatedly turned them down,” Potter says. “I was fortunate that David liked my initial ideas about the project, and so we had several meetings in New York about adapting his story into a piece of theatre.”
Potter’s first instinct was to direct the piece and commission a writer to create the play.
“But after several roadblocks with literary agents, I decided to start blueprinting the structure of the play with collaborators Shane Zeigler, Shane Stokes, and Santino Fontana,” he adds. “After several months into the play’s development, we realised we were onto something special. The play had its world premiere in 2013 at the North Carolina Stage Company and up to that point, David would sign off on drafts and give detailed insight to various aspects of the story.”
As the play’s 2014 off-Broadway premiere at NewYorkRep approached, Potter says Holthouse became closely involved with the actual writing of the piece.
“Although we received incredible acclaim in New York, we knew we could continue to strengthen the play,” he says. “David and I started working side by side on the next drafts of the play, and he was deeply instrumental in deepening the narrative. In advance of the UK premiere we continued to work on the play at the University of Anchorage and the Weston Playhouse.”
Potter describes Holthouse as “smart”, “fearless” and “a truly brilliant man”.
“I am eternally grateful to David and his family for inspiring us, and giving us the opportunity to spread awareness and open these critical conversations here with you now,” he says. “I am honoured to bring this inspiring story to Australia and propel these issues to the forefront of our global conversation.”
So, how have audiences responded to the play’s productions to date?
“From New York to London, and many of the regions of the United States, the greatest unifying response from audiences has been, ‘Thank you, David. Thank you for your courage and bravery’,” Potter says. “Stalking the Bogeyman raises a series of questions about issues most people are too afraid to discuss, and by doing so holds a mirror up to the darkest parts of ourselves.
“But at the end of the day, there’s something obviously communal about the theatre and it’s been a beautiful experience to see David’s story unify the community and offer hope to many audience members, whether or not they have been personally affected by this issue. Stalking the Bogeyman unfolds like a murder mystery and keeps us on the edge of our seats for an exciting 80 minutes. The central question of the play asks us to evaluate the age old question of the cost of revenge. In many post-show conversations, people have said that the play offers a deeply cathartic experience, and I hope the play has the same effect [with] its Australian Premiere at the Old Fitz.”
And is there a single key message Potter hopes audiences will take away from Stalking the Bogeyman?
“As David Holthouse likes to say, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’,” Potter says. “Together, let us end this conspiracy of silence.”
STALKING THE BOGEYMAN – SEASON DETAILS
When: May 23 – June 23, 2018
Where: The Old Fitz Theatre (129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo, NSW)
Performances: Tuesday – Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 5pm; Saturday 16 & 23 June: matinees at 2pm
Running time: 75 minutes
Ticket prices: $33 – $55 (GST and Booking Fees included)
Ticket prices are subject to change pending demand
Purchase tickets at: www.redlineproductions.com.au/stalking-the-bogeyman