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  Downstate at Steppenwolf Theatre


Steppenwolf Theatre
1650 N. Halsted Chicago

In downstate Illinois four sex offenders share a group home where they must negotiate their place in a world that doesn't want them. A man shows up to confront his childhood abuser-but does he want closure or retribution? This provocative new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning ensemble member Bruce Norris pushes moral boundaries as it questions what happens when society deems anyone unworthy of forgiveness.

Thru - Nov 18, 2018

Price: $20-$99

Stage: Upstairs Theatre

Show Type: Drama

Box Office: 312-335-1650

Running Time: 2hrs, 25mins; one intermission

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  Downstate Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Highly Recommended

"...“Downstate” is not a crude apologia for the sex offender. It contains the gut-wrenching testimony of a survivor, Andy (Tim Hopper), who appears at the home with his spouse (Matilda Ziegler), looking to confront his now-neutered abuser, Fred, as a way of trying to dig himself out of a hole he was pushed inside many decades ago, without regard to his own deserving."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Somewhat Recommended

"...Yes, the play gets uncomfortable, but I didn't feel especially challenged by "Downstate." A social justice argument - the punishments perhaps don't fit the crime - doesn't suit Norris' biting satirical voice, nor is he particularly strong at examining deep mental anguish, even if the idea is to question how we deal with it. To say his sympathies are misplaced here is not to question the intention, or even his point. It's to suggest that perhaps he's too restrained in his depiction of depravity to make us struggle with our sympathies the way I think he wants us to."
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Steven Oxman

Daily Herald - Highly Recommended

"..."Downstate," the new play by accomplished provocateur Bruce Norris in its premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre, is a talker. In hard news parlance, a talker is a story that generates conversation, which is something this audacious, highly charged play about paroled pedophiles living in a group home 280 miles south of Chicago will undoubtedly do."
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Barbara Vitello

Chicago Reader - Highly Recommended

"...Getting its world premiere now at Steppenwolf Theatre in an extraordinary production directed by Pam MacKinnon, Downstate is a nervy drama on a subject nobody wants to talk about. It's an unsentimental act of compassion and a devastating entertainment, a wry polemic and the darkest of dark comedies. As much as anything, it's a culmination, expressing Norris's sensibility more generously than any of his previous work."
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Tony Adler

Stage and Cinema - Recommended

"...Some underdogs seem deeply deserving - which makes sympathy for devils a tricky proposition. Pulitzer-winning Bruce Norris has never shied away from upsetting the apple cart. Co-commissioned and co-produced with the National Theatre of Great Britain, Steppenwolf Theater's latest provocation Downstate examines four child molesters in a group home. Norris exposes them as supposedly sick and marginalized "monsters," disposable felons who will always be too close for comfort; and also as demons from our dark side who, yes again, will always be too close for comfort."
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Lawrence Bommer

Splash Magazine - Highly Recommended

"...Even before the multi-dimensional tragic denouement, this reviewer was imbued with a sense of protectiveness towards the “villains” and a feeling of outraged frustration with Andy for getting “stuck” in self-righteousness. Most importantly, the play turned the tables on my prior knee-jerk reaction to view these offenders as pariahs. I came away believing that we are all caught in this human web together, that we all suffer in the struggles of being human, that it would be best if we could all forgive our selves and each other, and that atonement must come from a higher place."
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Debra Davy

Let's Play at ChicagoNow - Highly Recommended

"...Downstate is a gripping and empathetic, delicate and taboo dialogue in which the Bible calls us to love thine enemy, however, can we truly love when we can only see the hatred needed to harm and steal the tender soul and spirit of a child. We are not sure the world is ready for Downstate, but we are sure thankful for Steppenwolf for bringing it out of the closet."
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Rick and Brenda McCain

NewCity Chicago - Somewhat Recommended

"...Is “Downstate” a well-acted and well-written humanizing portrait of a modern-day leper colony? Sure. Is it a nuanced discussion about pedophilia free of ulterior motives that would undercut the moral ground upon which its scribe alleges to stand? Well, that’s what comment sections and post-show discussions are for. Personally, I can’t shake the feeling that Norris is justifying a personal belief system that he barely maintains by treating a disenfranchised and complicated social group like a prop, which is the height of modern politics."
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Kevin Greene

WTTW - Highly Recommended

"...“Downstate,” which is far and away the best of Norris’ many plays (including his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park”), will either make you question your opinions on the subject or confirm them. But it will certainly inspire a gut reaction as it brings to mind the priests, teachers, athletic coaches, gymnastics team doctor, siblings, parents, “boyfriends” and others who are initially perceived as figures of trust, but turn out to be sexual predators. And it will call to mind the total strangers who can rape a solo jogger some morning, or attack a woman alone as she turns the key to her door one night."
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Hedy Weiss

Chicagoland Theater Reviews - Highly Recommended

"...The play’s most gripping scenes are extended verbal duets between Andy and Fred, Andy and Dee, and Ivy and Felix. The intensity of the exchanges is blistering, with the offenders staking their positions with uncompromising passion. There is one on-stage brawl and an off stage death, but mostly “Downstate” deals in volcanic language."
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Dan Zeff

Third Coast Review - Highly Recommended

"...Director Pam MacKinnon, working from Norris' dynamic and layered script, directs each performance with a fine-tooth comb. This is a group of detestable, rotten apples, but each of these men is also, in his own way, disarming and hilarious, with quirks and charms that make us forget why they are in this make-shift homestead wearing ankle bracelets; until we're reminded, and once again infuriated by the hypocrisy. But in the theater, we cannot immediately respond with outrage. We must absorb, and accept. We sit with these men, we listen to each and every exchange, we are forced to hear dialogues where these human beings qualify and quantify and compare their deeds, where they defend one another and lash out against each other, where they use the very details of the unspeakable acts done by them (and sometimes to them) as emotional weaponry and psychic defense."
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Matthew Nerber

The Hawk Chicago - Somewhat Recommended

"...The standout performance comes from K. Todd Freeman as Dee. Initially, Dee is extremely likeable, amusingly full of quips and sassy retorts. But eventually Dee’s lack of remorse for his crimes comes to the surface, and it becomes clear just how deluded he is, just how troubled his life and his past have been. The pendulum swings back and forth between loving and hating Dee, between rooting for him and detesting him. Neither hero nor villain, Dee embodies what the play hopes to remind us: we are all, at our core, human."
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Emily Schmidt

Chicago On Stage - Highly Recommended

"...Downstate is a play with lots of questions and no answers, though with its subject matter your wouldn’t really expect any. There are no easy solutions to the problems Norris and MacKinnon pose here, but if they succeed in at least breaking down the notion that these people are less than human they’ve accomplished a kind of miracle. This is a powerful, controversial topic and our responses are quite naturally visceral. Getting an audience even to think of pedophiles in a new way has to require some sort of playwriting and directing genius. One thing is for sure: after seeing Downstate, you’ll be thinking and talking about it for quite some time."
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Karen Topham

TotalTheater - Highly Recommended

"...Downstate, premiering at Steppenwolf amid civil furor, still needs some fine-tuning, but by the time it moves to the National Theatre in London, its enlightened arguments should spark many a post-show discussion."
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Mary Shen Barnidge

Picture This Post - Highly Recommended

"...The first act, full of compelling individual encounters, doesn't quite build enough tension for this viewer. Act 2 has a tighter grip. But even when a scene stalls or wanders a bit, every moment is authentic and the overall effect is intense. For those who want theater to introduce them to unfamiliar worlds, no matter how dark, DOWNSTATE delivers."
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Susan Lieberman

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   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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