‘Downstate’ is a play about pedophiles. It’s also brilliant.

Take a deep breath and try to ruminate calmly on the position playwright Bruce Norris takes in his scintillating new play, “Downstate”: that the punishments inflicted on some pedophiles are so harsh and unrelenting as to be inhumane.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is no punishment metered out by a state for pedophiles that is harsh and unrelenting enough for me to consider it inhumane.

For me, inhumane punishment for pedophiles is a goal.  It’s a feature, not a bug.  Anything less excruciating than a torture like breaking on the wheel or flaying alive is more merciful than pedophiles deserve.

It’s almost impossible to broad-brush the perspective at the heart of this impeccably acted drama without sounding as if one is advocating some extraordinary level of consideration for individuals who have committed unspeakable crimes. And yet Norris proposes a variation on this proposition at off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons: He is questioning what degree of compassion should society fairly hold out to those who have served their time for sexual abuse, assault or rape.

None.  None whatsoever.

Norris, who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Clybourne Park,” a bracingly funny play about race and gentrification inspired by “A Raisin in the Sun,” goes here for another societal jugular. And his provocative efforts result in one of the best theater evenings of the year. (Its pre-covid premiere occurred in 2018 at Steppenwolf Theatre in Norris’s hometown, Chicago.)

He’s loaded the dice to some degree in “Downstate,” as the predators who’ve completed their prison terms are depicted not as monsters but rather as complicated, troubled souls. Felix (Eddie Torres) is a taciturn loner, keeping to himself in a screened-off alcove. Gio (Glenn Davis) is a smarmy operator with a job at a local office supply superstore. Dee (K. Todd Freeman) is a clearheaded ex-stage performer who is fiercely protective of the oldest resident, wheelchair-bound Fred (Francis Guinan), a onetime piano teacher of serene disposition.

There’s no sweeping under the threadbare rug in “Downstate” of the heinous offenses for which the men have been severely punished. We learn about what each of them has done, and we are in effect asked to judge for ourselves what magnitude of ongoing torment each deserves. It develops here as an agonizing moral question, one that our retributive correctional culture would rather not have to debate.

Some theatergoers no doubt will resent that Norris chose to illuminate this delicate subject in a nuanced way that doesn’t jibe with their own undiluted revulsion. If you suspect you are one of these people, “Downstate” is not for you. For many others, it will be a stunning demonstration of the power of narrative art to tackle a taboo, to compel us to look at a controversial topic from novel perspectives.

It helps that Norris has written plum parts for a cadre of actors so sensitively directed that you might fool yourself into thinking a documentary is being recorded. Guinan and Freeman are astonishing as Fred and Dee, deeply flawed human beings who convince us that — even given our sorrow for their victims — there may be a fate for them other than unending purgatory. Guzmán gives a splendid account of the impossible burden placed on a civil servant, to provide some measure of humane guidance to a group of reviled pariahs. And Hopper superbly manages the assignment of a character who seems both entitled to sympathy and unsympathetically entitled.

“Downstate” is proof positive that you can love a play that turns you inside out.

You will not make me try to emphasize with pedophiles.  Even the attempt to do engender compassion for pedophiles is an affront to all that is good and decent.

This playwright and the Washington Post will not normalize sympathy abd compassion for pedophiles.

We need to normalize the grotesque execution of pedophiles.

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By J. Kb

3 thoughts on “Broadway tries to make pedophiles sympathetic with WaPo’s help”
  1. Having had to deal with one pedophile that was sexually assaulting his step daughters, a grandfather that got my 2 year old daughter to “tickle him” down there, and an ex-wife who’s father was sexually assaulting and raping from the time she turned 12 until she left home at 18, I agree with J.Kb.

    When the detective asked me what should be done with the pedophile that was sexually assaulting his step daughters I said “After he is convicted he should be sent to prison for a very long time and be released into gen pop as soon as he gets there.” The detective looked at me and said “oh…”

    He and I both knew that I wanted him dead in a most horrific way. Said monster is currently serving 3 consecutive sentences of 40 years each in the special jail. In addition, the judge and prosecutor left 4 very good charges of the list last time so that if he were to be released, he can be picked up, charged and prosecuted on those charges.

    Given that every time he showed up at court he was suffering from another beat down from the jail inmates I don’t think he would have done well in gen pop.

    My only issue is if this the label of “pedophile” is miss applied. The 17yo who is having sex with his 16yo girl friend is not a pedophile. She turns 17, he turns 18 and suddenly it is statutory rape. Is he a pedo? I don’t think so.

    The other part is the person that is attracted to “too young” but doesn’t do anything about it. No child porn, nothing inappropriate. He might be a pedophile in a technical sense but if he doesn’t do anything than nothing should be done to him.

    1. Also, “pædophilia” is specifically sexual attraction to the pre-pubescent. There are other terms for attraction to the barely-pubescent and to the post-pubescent but inappropriately young. (This last category is rather subjective; at my age, thirtyish counts as inappropriately young.)
      Mixing up those who woo 17-year-olds with those who rape 2-year-olds is unhelpful.

  2. The democrats way- normalize sick and twisted behavior. Look how they mocked mike pence when he said he wouldn’t meet with women alone ever. Smart guy nowadays. In realsville it isnt “normal “.. as above the problem is they will crucify someone who isnt really doing wrong and the fruits will get off. In the old days the local dads would get together and politely “convince “ mr pedo to move along.. thats what it will take to improve America- local citizens banding together and getting rid of the vermin in the neighborhood. We know “the law” wont because police have been tied up and “prosecuters” will only go after real Americans to make “examples” out of them.

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