Monday, January 9, 2017

Stalking the Bogeyman at Florida Studio Theatre

Here's a clue. If you find yourself wondering why a play was set in a seemingly random location, the likelihood is that it's a true story. Last summer at EdFringe, I asked Wendi why she thought "My Eyes Went Dark" was set in Russia. "It's probably based on something that actually happened," she said. It seemed improbable given the storyline, but she was right.

So I should have suspected that "Stalking the Bogeyman" was fact-based when I asked myself why it was set in Alaska. This knowledge makes the play even more worthy of theatergoers' time.

As the play opens, David is studying a map to determine the best place to commit a murder. The man who raped him when he was a child has reappeared in his life. Never having told anyone about the rape, he believes there's a high probability he can get away with the crime. 

David at seven years old

The audience is then whisked back in time to 25 years earlier when seven year old David and his family moved to Alaska. His parents become friends with their neighbors, whose high school son is a star athlete. When they get together, the two "kids" hang out in the basement. Things get out of control quickly as the neighbor turns into a sword-bearing rapist.

The rapist (whom David calls the Bogeyman) assures David that if he tells his parents what happened, they will hate him. How could David know better? And so he kept the secret and vowed to never find himself alone with the Bogeyman again.

I don't want to give too much away about the story in case you're able to see the emotionally-charged show, which runs through Jan. 20th. I will, however, say that "Stalking the Bogeyman" isn't a play you leave behind when you exit the theater. In fact, Tina and I couldn't stop talking about the show on the way home. She noted that using the same actors to portray David and the Bogeyman as their child and adult selves drove home the point that whatever happens to you as a kid remains with you forever. (And here I just thought it was a question of economics!) 

Holthouse testifying before Alaskan Senate
in favor of Erin's law
We both were struck by David's comment that he didn't know who he would be if he hadn't been raped. Of course, a violent incident like this stays with you forever and can alter the course of your life. But neither of us had considered it from quite this perspective. The sense of lost possibilities was palpable.

The show continued to linger with me after I got home, so I decided to do a bit of research about its history. I noticed then that the playwright and the lead character had the same name. What?!!! 

David Holthouse is an investigative journalist who, in 2004, bravely wrote about what had happened to him when he was a child. The story begins, "This time last year I was plotting to kill a man."

The piece was published in Denver's Westword and picked up as a podcast in 2011 on "This American Life." (Click here to hear the podcast.)  This coverage gained the attention of some theater types. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Holthouse's story doesn't end with "Stalking the Bogeyman." There have been further developments in the case, which he shares on his website. (Don't read this if you are going to see the show.)

Although Holthouse may not know who he would have become if he hadn't been victimized, he can be proud that he's grown up to be an advocate for the prevention of child sexual abuse. In addition to raising awareness about the issue through his writing, Holthouse testified before the Alaskan Senate in support of Erin's law. The law, which passed, requires schools to provide age appropriate K-12 sexual abuse education. While the existence of such education might not have prevented David from being raped, it might have enabled him to share his burden instead of carrying it alone for 25 years.

Kudos to Florida Studio Theatre for producing "Stalking the Bogeyman" as part of its Stage III series. The programming focuses on "edgy" topics that might not appeal to broader audiences. Next up in the series is "Gidion's Knot," a show dealing with the topic of bullying. The final production will be "Grounded," which tells the story of a female fighter pilot who is reassigned to drone operation when she becomes pregnant. 

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