David Holthouse meticulously plotted just how he would approach the man who had raped him as a child. He would shoot him in the crotch before putting two slugs in the back of his head. "I was going to walk up to him," Holthouse wrote of his plan, "reintroduce myself, and then blow his balls off."
Holthouse, a gonzo journalist and documentarian, first shared his harrowing story publicly in a 2004 article he wrote for New Times' sister paper Westword. In Stalking the Bogeyman, he described the gun and homemade silencer he had purchased and how he had staked out his abuser's Colorado home. He unraveled a candid and emotionally raw account of the day a 17-year-old son of a family friend stole his childhood in 1978. He had never shared his ordeal with anyone. For years, he was dogged by the overwhelming feeling of shame. Then, circumstances forced the truth to light.
The article, and an ensuing retelling of his story on an episode of This American Life, caught the attention of playwright Markus Potter, who eventually collaborated with Holthouse to turn the tale into a play that debuted off-Broadway in 2013. Now, GableStage is bringing this riveting and heart-wrenching play to the Biltmore stage.
Revenge and redemption are themes GableStage has often tackled. Arguably, though, none has been as intense as Stalking the Bogeyman, which opens this Saturday.
"I like to do plays that deal with things that feature difficult themes," director Joseph Adler says. "Certainly this one, dealing with child sexual abuse, is not an easy subject for audiences. But it... needs to be talked about more. It's certainly rarely talked about in this way in the theater."
The play gets specific in describing the abuse, as Holthouse — portrayed in the GableStage production by Taylor Miller — shares in graphic detail how he was cornered and attacked in the accused's bedroom basement while their parents played board games upstairs. What began as an older kid showing off his collection of karate weaponry to a much younger boy quickly turned dark and twisted. As Holthouse wrote: "What happened next wasn't fondling. It wasn't Michael Jackson gently introducing my hand to his magical giraffe, and it wasn't anything like a Catholic priest masturbating an altar boy. I was 7, and it was violent, sick, pedophilic rape."
When his abuser was done, he threatened young Holthouse with a blade, telling the boy he'd gut him like a fish if he said anything to anyone.
"David is not shy in getting into the details," Miller says. "He doesn't repress his trauma. He's had a lifetime of shame and guilt to deal with. It's a revenge tale. And right from the get-go, David just brings you into his mind, and it's nonstop from there."
Miller, who read multiple books and articles about child sexual-abuse survivors to prepare for the role, describes playing Holthouse (who also worked at Phoenix New Times) as one of the most intense portrayals of his career.
"With this subject matter, you don't want to take the role lightly," he says. "David describes his own journalism as full-immersion, and that's kind of how I've approached playing him for this play. Finding everything I could find, from books and videos of survivors, just to get inside the head of someone like David. As an actor, I feel I owe him that."
Miller says male sex-abuse victims often take time, even decades, to reveal what happened.
"David's specific story deals with how he, as an adult survivor, wants to take control of his life after all these years and how he fights to try to let go of the rage, shame, and guilt. That's what he tackled personally, and that's what we're tackling in this play."
Adler adds that the play gets into the minds of both victim and abuser. "We deal with what affects people who are victims, but also what makes a bogeyman as well," he says. "The two most important themes in a good story are revenge and redemption, and I think we have both here."
Stalking the Bogeyman promises a visceral production that will leave audiences shaken but will also reveal unspoken things about victims and their abusers.
For each of its productions, GableStage puts on a preview performance the day before opening night for a not-for-profit group. The group sells the preview ticket and keeps the proceeds. For Stalking the Bogeyman, GableStage has invited Kristi House, which works with children who are victims of sexual abuse.
Moreover, GableStage will also feature audience open-mike discussions with Kristi House, where audience members will be able to talk about the play and its subject matter following Thursday evening and Sunday matinee performances. "I'm hoping this play creates an opening for discussion," Adler says.
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One of the most poignant scenes comes when Holthouse's parents discover the truth and call their friends. "This is a raw, true story that has really gritty details," Miller says. "We're lucky that David shared this story in such a specific and personal way."
Miller promises audiences will be fully engaged in the cathartic moment when Holthouse confronts his abuser. "The big question at the end of the day for victims is, 'Do you let this horrible event dictate your life, or do you let it go and live your life?'?" Miller says. "And in Stalking the Bogeyman, you see how it unfolds for David."
Stalking the Bogeyman
Saturday, July 30, through August 28 every Thursday through Sunday at GableStage at the Biltmore, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Tickets start at $45 for general admission and $42 for seniors.