“This time last year I was plotting to kill a man and I was telling myself that it was noble,” says writer David Holthouse in his story, Stalking the Bogeyman. “I was doing it to protect the children. But really, more than anything else, I think I just wanted to shoot the son of a bitch.” Holthouse read the harrowing, true-life tale that stems from being raped as a 7-year-old.
That story, raw with emotionalism, appeared on Public Radio International broadcast This American Life in 2011 (and before that, in 2004, ran as a cover story in Denver, Co., alt-weekly Westword). New York Rep theater company artistic director Markus Potter heard it on a This American Life podcast while in his car. “I literally had to pull off the road because I was completely arrested by the power of the story,” he says.
He immediately thought that it was a story that needed to be told and one that could work well on the stage. Potter contacted Holthouse through the producers of This American Life and the writer agreed to give New York Rep the rights. The author, who lives in Alaska, has been instrumental in adapting the work to the stage — he’ll even attend the opening shows and will participate in some after-show discussions in Asheville.
After a year and a half of preparation, Potter started looking for a theater to develop and refine the play. Bogeyman is headed for off-Broadway, but by the time it gets to New York (the namesake and home of the company behind it), the show has to be flawless, Potter explains. “We strive to have the same quality here, for this production, but if there’s a small problem it’s not going to make or break it.” He happened to tune into an American Theatre Wing podcast on which NC Stage’s artistic director, Charlie Flynn-McIver, was a guest. “The theater sounded very innovative and like they take a lot of risks,” Potter says. Mutual colleagues confirmed that impression, so the New York Rep director reached out to the local company.
Flynn-McIver and Asheville native Chris Allison play the title character and Holthouse, respectively. They’re joined by an ensemble cast. NC Stage pushes the limits of theater, says Potter, and is willing to look at raw and dangerous issues. “A lot of people would not; a lot of people would look for the safe refurbished, same old productions,” he says. Potter explains that, ultimately, Bogeyman is a transformative story with a positive ending, but there’s some tough ground to cover in order to reach the uplifting conclusion. (For the record, Holthouse’s original story is not graphic, and at points the writer’s humor shines through. But it’s still not appropriate for children.)
“I do think this could work as a film,” says Potter. “But there’s the danger in it becoming banal, an afterschool special.” He wanted to focus on the story more than any message and began the writing process based on the author’s 20-minute radio reading. A few changes have been made to flesh out the drama for the stage, but it remains true to the original tale.
Beyond Potter’s initial response to the Holthouse’s writing, there are other reasons why Bogeyman was a match for New York Rep. That company’s mission includes encouraging and fostering new works. They’ve developed other authors, and they look for socially conscious material. “Issues that really resonate to today and the lives we’re currently living,” says Potter. As a relatively new father himself, he was drawn into Bogeyman’s theme of protection of family, even at the cost of personal morals, a rich if slippery topic.
Perhaps it’s because of that personal connection that Potter says he feels an enormous weight and responsibility when it comes to the production. “I’m thinking of all the survivors out there and making sure we’re honoring and respecting and doing this the right way.”
He continues, “My first goal is that this be a great piece of theater, but there’s also a component of this being educational.” Through their connection to Holthouse, New York Rep has teamed with Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN); that group is acting as a consultant.
As part of the local show, Our VOICE (a nonprofit intervention agency serving victims of domestic and sexual violence) is partnering with NC Stage to present Heart Works — Our VOICE 13th Annual Survivors Art Show. Cheri Brackett is the featured painter. The exhibit opens on Friday, Sept. 27, 5:30-7 p.m. at the theater.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: Stalking the Bogeyman
where: NC Stage
when: Wednesday, Sept. 18 through Sunday, Oct. 13 (Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. $16-$28 depending on the night of the week. Student tickets are $10 anytime. http://www.ncstage.org)