NY: Review: Downstate Offers Sympathy for Sex Offenders and Scrutiny for Victims

Source: theatermania.com 11/15/22

“Victims don’t lie,” a character confidently claims in Downstate, the provocative new drama by Bruce Norris, now making its New York debut at Playwrights Horizons. And in saying this, he is only regurgitating a bit of dogma that has been repeatedly affirmed by the dominant culture — particularly since the #MeToo movement of 2017. If you’re like me, you hear such sentiments and a little voice in your brain whispers, bullshit.

In Downstate, that voice belongs to Dee (K. Todd Freeman, giving one of the most exhilarating performances of the last several seasons). Dee is the unlikely conscience and emotional center of this play. Like his housemates Fred (Francis Guinan as a human Pooh Bear), Gio (a hot-blooded Glenn Davis), and Felix (furtive Eddie Torres), he is a convicted sex offender. Dee maintained a two-year sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy when he was in his 30s, a relationship Dee insists was consensual — but that is immaterial when the law does not recognize the ability of a 14-year-old to consent. Dee spent 15 years in prison for his crime and has now landed here.

With this excellent cast, it is possible to both sympathize with the men and suspect that they would offend again, if given the chance.

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Anyone seen this? The New York Times and many theater-goers love this play about a halfway house for sex offenders called “Downstate.” I’m not sure how I feel—it sounds like it portrays the men as complex and human, but also strikes me as cartoonish both in its depiction of our plight and in our destructiveness. I don’t really trust fiction to come to our aid, but I’m surprised how much this is resonating with audiences—check out the comments, they love it and want it to get a Tony.