“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.