Bruce Norris


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Full-length Drama

By Bruce Norris

In downstate Illinois, four men convicted of sex crimes against minors share a group home where they live out their lives in the shadow of the crimes they committed. A man shows up to confront his childhood abuser—but does he want closure or retribution? This gripping and provocative new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Bruce Norris zeroes in on the limits of our compassion as it questions what happens when society deems anyone beyond forgiveness.

“Bruce Norris’s DOWNSTATE is the kind of play that takes over your body gradually. Its tension seeps into your limbs, settles tautly in your solar plexus and does not leave. ... This deep, dark tragicomedy pokes and prods at our compassion, checks the pulse on our sense of justice, taps our reflex response to charm. And charm, in this play, is both a tool of the predators’ trade and a survival skill.”
—The New York Times

“[DOWNSTATE is] 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. ... DOWNSTATE is proof positive that you can love a play that turns you inside out.”
—The Washington Post

 Cast of Characters
(4W, 7M)
ANDY — 40s, white, professional.
EM — 40s, same as ANDY.
FRED — 70s, white, glasses, motorized wheelchair, childlike, not
unlike Fred Rogers.
DEE — Pushing 60, Black, thin, languid.
GIO — 30s, Black, muscular, clean-cut, ambitious, voluble.
FELIX — 40s, Latino, heavyset, solitary, silent.
IVY — 40s-50s, Black or Latina. Probation officer, overworked, weary.
EFFIE — Late teens/early 20s. Any ethnicity. Hyperactive. Too much
eye makeup.
COPS — (non-speaking) Two male, one female, to be played by

A group home for sex offenders, downstate Illinois: a single-story house, built in the 1950s or 60s, now deteriorated. Superficial attempts have been made to make the place livable but they fail to relieve the general dreariness of the place. Ugly contemporary sofa, small flat-screen TV, second-hand dining table and chairs, window unit AC. One broken window, repaired with duct tape and cardboard. In one corner, a weight-training bench with barbells. In another, an electric keyboard. An aluminum baseball bat leans next to the front door. Kitchen partially visible through a doorway. A hall leads to a bathroom and bedrooms. To the rear of the main room, an accordion door has been added to create a fourth bedroom from an alcove. When the door opens we can see into Felix’s cramped room: single bed, crucifix on the wall, personal items, mini-fridge, etc.

The time is the present.


Bruce Norris

Bruce Norris is the author of Clybourne Park, which premiered in 2010 at Playwrights Horizons, New York and received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Olivier, Evening Standard, and Tony Awards for productions at Playwrights Horizons, West End and Broadway.  In 2018-2019, his play Downstate was seen at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago and subsequently at the National Theatre, London.  Other plays include The Low Road, (Royal Court Theatre, Public Theatre), an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Donmar Warehouse) as well as The Qualms, A Parallelogram, The Unmentionables, The Pain and the Itch, and Purple Heart, all of which premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, where he is an ensemble member.  He lives in New York.


Photo by Chelcie Parry