The Awful Secret of Children’s Lives

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Stalking the Bogeyman

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at

Remember what life was like when you were seven years old? Snowball fights in January. Baseball cards for boys, the new dolls for girls. Popcorn at the movies. New jackets. Rollerblades. Summers at the shore. Endless television watching. Family trips to the movies. Music booming out of the radio.

It was pleasant. It was sweet, but when David Holthouse was seven, he was brutally sodomized and raped by a family friend, the local high school football star, while his parents played cards with the older boy’s parents in the living room. Little David was left on the basement couch, face down, pillow over his head, like a beaten up rag doll.

He fumed. He cried. He planned revenge. Holthouse even bought a gun and, in his later years, went looking for his tormentor of so long ago, a classic stalker with a firearm, looking to kill him for what he did so long ago in 1978.

Holthouse, who grew up to become a newspaper reporter, was raped in 1978 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Stalking the Bogeyman, that opened last week at the New World Stages in New York, is David Holthouse’s play about his attack nearly forty years ago. It is mesmerizing, electric, riveting. Pick any glorious adjective. Stalking the Bogeyman is one of the best history plays, best plays of any genre, this year.

It is a play that makes you shiver and yet still tugs at your heart. There are moments in the play when actor Roderick Hill, as a middle-aged Holthouse, can’t control his voice when he talks about the rape. He stands there alone on stage, bathed in a sad light, voice breaking, body trembling, and you see how damaged, how battered, he is, after all these years. You want to cry for him.

The play, nicely directed by Markus Potter, is his story, but throughout the drama he keeps talking about the feelings of all the other boys, and girls, all the loving and trusting kids, who were raped by their elders. He tells his attacker, near the end of the play, that child rapists usually have 100 victims. Keep multiplying that in your head.

Do you remember the television shows where a dozen or more victims of priest rapists in the Catholic Church sat in chairs and answered questions and told stories about what happened to them? I remember how some of them, big, hulking tough guys, lost their voices as they told their stories. Holthouse reminded me of them, and all the hurt in them.

The rape of children by adults, all of whom should know better, is a national disgrace. Every time you read about one you remember all the others. The little children, with their mussed hair and warm smiles, are a huge army of damaged people who grow up and shudder and shake when they remember their childhood. This play evokes all of those feelings. It is provocative and powerful.

It goes a step farther, too. It probes the feelings of the parents, on both sides. When David’s parents learned what happened to him, decades later, they are absolutely crushed. But so are the parents of the attacker, especially the blowhard football jock father. He is shattered.

The play is especially relevant today. Right when it opened, several football players from Sayreville, New Jersey, were arrested for sexual assaults on other players in the high school’s locker room. The huge scandal forced high school officials to cancel the school’s entire football season. The controversy has drawn significant national attention.

Roderick Hill is phenomenal as David, unable to escape the memories of his past and the 1970s childhood that he should have had and missed. He is tough and yet tender, brilliant and yet flawed. His attacker, the ‘Bogeyman’ played By Eric Hegler, is all football star macho when he rapes the seven year old boy, and a psychological mess years later. He was badly wounded by the experience, too (if you believe him). David’s parents, brought down like a tree falling in the forest when they learn the truth, are well played by Kate Levy and Murphy Geyer. The Bogeyman’s folks are nicely portrayed by John Herrera and Roxanne Hart.

The play takes place on a handsome, unique set, that is a combination living room and basement. The shelves of the walls are jammed with photos, trophies, glasses and books. Amid all of this standard 1970s America this vicious crime takes place. What is good about director Potter’s work is that the crime is not shown as something out of the past, or representative of the ‘70s. It is a rape that could take place any day, and, in fact, does. It is yet another reminder that we don’t learn from the past.

Sadly, stories like this are not as unusual as you think. Statistics from organizations such as the National Center for Victims of Crime and the U.S. Justice Department show that between 9.3% and 15% of children below the age of 12 have been sexually assaulted, and the number might be higher because of children’s reluctance to report such as crime. Most of them suffer lifelong psychological damage and the younger children, such as 7 year old David, might also suffer sustained physical damage from the assault.

I looked around the audience in the middle of the show and you could see that same look in all the faces of the men and women in their seats – it could have been them.

PRODUCTION: The show is produced by Newyorkrep, La Vie Productions, Soumyo Sarkar, others. Sets: David Goldstein, Costumes: Tristan Raines, Lighting: Corey Pattak. Sound: Erik T. Lawson. The play was directed by Markus Potter. It has an open run.

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