THE BLOG
09/29/2014 07:28 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2014

First Nighter: Markus Potter's 'Stalking the Bogeyman,' Ira Lewis's 'Chinese Coffee'

When he was 7 and his family was making new friends after relocating in Anchorage, David Holthouse (Roderick Hill) was raped by Nathan Crawford (Erik Heger), the 17-year-old son of a couple to whose home the Holthouses had been invited for the evening.

Not only did David carry the effects of the criminal act from then on, he determined early in his adulthood that he was going to murder Nathan, who'd become for him the titular figure in Stalking the Bogeyman, adapted by Markus Potter from the story Holthouse told on NPR's This American Life.

The stage version, at New World Stages, couldn't be more moving from the moment Hill as David steps front and center to announce his plan and to explain why he's developed it as he goes on to tell his story in flashback.

Saying he figures he can get away with murder because so many years later and with no one knowing about the assault, there would be no way he'd be a suspect, he steps back into to the scene of the recalled brutality. He flashes on the night he was sodomized in the Crawford recreation room, while parents Nancy (Kate Levy) and Robert (Murphy Guyer) socialize upstairs with Nancy (Roxanne Hart) and Russ (John Herrera) Crawford.

Although the families remain friends, David does what he can to avoid Nathan as he grows up. Eventually he becomes a journalist covering tough stories across the country (The Village Voice is one of his outlets), but he never feels the childhood damage healing, fading. Sessions with psychotherapist Sarah Leavitt (Hart) bring out his continuing anger but do little to assuage it.

Eventually, his mother -- still regarding the Crawfords as an important part of the family's past and Nathan a good buddy to David -- informs him that Nathan is now living in Denver, where, as it happens, David is also living.

David tracks Nathan for some time, waiting for the right moment to fire the pistol he's bought for his act of vengeance. His intentions go awry when--. But hold it. Maybe the details should be withheld here out of respect for the high Stalking the Bogeyman drama. Nonetheless, be aware that a meeting does take place in a local mall between David, who has never married, and Nathan, now a father.

Also worth mentioning is that looking back at his life, Holthouse reports that the childhood attack became a defining characteristic for him, perhaps his most significant defining characteristic. He has no idea, and never will, how he might have turned out if the destructive incident hadn't occurred. His acknowledging this irreversible condition is perhaps the saddest moment in Potter's work. Its psychological implications are devastating.

Potters carefully and cogently directs his play on an elaborate David Goldstein set made up of extremely tall shelving with myriad niches containing all sorts of knickknack, the most prominent being bulletin-board-like collections of family photographs.

The set and Cory Pattak's lighting are helpful, and even more helpful is the cast. Levy, Hart, Guyer and Herrera are strong in their roles, the latter three doubling and tripling. Even more impressive are Hill and Heger as the abused and the abuser. Hill plays David's lasting pain so effectively that patrons may feel the urge to turn away from it. Heger's mercurial bully is frightening, and his final scene as a father approaching middle age is troubling from an entirely different perspective.

In presenting David Holthouse's tale, Potter gives much weight to the endlessly lingering aftermath of the horrific deed. He does more than that, however. Dropping in comments on child abusers and the likelihood of their repeating the compulsive behavior, he suggests that while the victim is fathomlessly harmed, the perpetrator may also suffer at unconsidered length.

Oh, yes, this is some saga!

(Note: Nowhere in the program is there any indication that names have been changed.)
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In Ira Lewis's Chinese Coffee, the revived two-hander at the Roy Arias II, it's the freezing wee hours when Jake (Austin Pendleton) reluctantly responds to the banging on the door of his small apartment. Half-heartedly, he welcomes novelist Harry (Sean Walsh).

Harry initially wants the money Jake owes him since the preceding May 28, but it comes out he's really there to learn what Jake thinks of his latest novel. At first, Jake, who's had the manuscript for some time, claims he hasn't read it, but after being relentlessly badgered, admits he has gone through it and strongly disapproves of what he found.

He objects to its autobiographical slant, an unfair and unauthorized appropriation of the Jake-Harry friendship. Moreover, he announces that had things gone better for him, now that he's 50, he would have been a great novelist. Then he insists that Harry, at 46, is washed up. This throws an understandable damper on what they've previously called their best-friends status.

For the remainder of the 100 minutes Lewis has allowed the encounter--many more minutes than are anywhere necessary--Harry and Jake attack each other, time and again covering the same verbal territory and threatening to cover it until the sun comes up and spring arrives followed by summer. The audience is only spared more of the same when Lewis decides he'd better end it all and does so with no discernible resolution--or no meaningful unresolved resolution.

Apparently, Pendleton, Walsh and director Louise Lasser (of all unexpected helmers) have been worrying this script for some time at both the HB and Actors Studios, which is something of a giveaway. The entry comes across as more an actors' and director's exercise than anything else. It feels as if the central trio have been closely concentrating on what they were doing for themselves without ever standing back and taking an analytic look at Lewis's prolix play.

From start to finish Pendleton and Walsh give astoundingly natural performances that go some way, though not far enough, to justify the length of the sketch. Lasser handles the pair well, although since the action is so talky, she might have figured out more ways for them to move about the properly claustrophobic set on which even the sole window doesn't--symbolically--open.