Katherine Michelle Tanner has done all sorts of memorable work on area stages over the years, from a haunted math nerd in “Proof” at American Stage many moons ago to an Iraq War photojournalist in “Times Stands Still” for Banyan Theater a couple of seasons ago and a soaking-wet victim of a serial killer in “The Drowning Girls” at Sarasota’s Urbanite Theatre earlier this year. In Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project,” she played all the characters in a chilling drama about the massacre of Pennsylvania schoolgirls.
It’s plays like “The Amish Project,” she said, that give her the biggest artistic thrill. Her upcoming show at Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre, “Stalking the Bogeyman,” is another of those shows.
“As an actor, it’s such a privilege to tell these stories about things that are really going on, stories that can that can open dialogues,” she said.
“Stalking the Bogeyman” is a true story that journalist David Holthouse first wrote about in a Denver alternative paper more than a decade ago, and later recounted on NPR’s “This American Life.” Holthouse and Markus Potter, with some help from three other writers, turned it into a play that premiered Off-Broadway in 2014.
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Tanner is a bit reticent to talk about the details of the plot, fearing spoilers, but millions of people have heard the story, and others are likely to look it up before buying tickets to the show.
The impetus for the plot comes when Holthouse is 7 years old, and he’s brutally raped by a teenage acquaintance. As Holthouse told his readers in that newspaper story, and as he told listeners on NPR, he spent several decades trying to come to terms with the assault, and eventually devised a plan to find and kill the rapist. In print and on air, he described his fantasy about the killing so graphically, in such detail, that he ended up getting arrested.
For Tanner, the play is not so much about the assault as about how Holthouse chose to deal with it.
“Obviously, abuse happens,” she said. “Everyone knows that. As a child you’re going to just react to that, but how long do you harbor those feelings? How do you move on?”
Most of the actors in the play take more than one role. Tanner, in one of two roles, plays a friend of the protagonist. She was also abused as a child, but has dealt with the trauma in a much different way.
Structurally, Tanner said, the play is sort of like a 21st-century version of a memory play. The modern elements include brisk action that allows the complex story to unfold in just 75 minutes. (There’s no intermission.)
Reviews of previous productions of the play have called it “harrowing” and “intense,” and noted that it’s as much about shame (Holthouse kept his rape a secret for years) as about revenge. Tanner said it’s also ultimately about empathy.
“Stalking the Bogeyman” is the first production in FST’s Stage III series, which aims to produce cutting-edge plays. The other plays are “Gidion’s Knot,” which opens in February and “Grounded” in March.
Details: Jan. 6-20, Bowne’s Lab Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 7 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $34-$39. 941-366-9000, floridastudiotheatre.org.