New York Premiere of Bruce Norris' DOWNSTATE to be Presented at Playwrights Horizons in October

The production stars Francis Guinan, K. Todd Freeman, Glenn Davis and Eddie Torres.

By: Sep. 16, 2022
New York Premiere of Bruce Norris' DOWNSTATE to be Presented at Playwrights Horizons in October

Playwrights Horizons will present the New York premiere of Bruce Norris's Downstate, directed by Pam MacKinnon, October 28-December 11 (opening November 15). This provocative work surrounds a registered address in downstate Illinois, where four men convicted of sex crimes share a group home, living out their days post-incarceration. When a man shows up to confront his childhood abuser, it becomes hard to locate the line between justice and retribution.

Downstate sits audiences down to witness a single day within the home where Fred (Francis Guinan), Dee (K. Todd Freeman), Gio (Glenn Davis), and Felix (Eddie Torres) tightly cohabitate: four random lives thrust into shared space by only one chilling commonality. They have all been released back from their respective sentences into the permanent prison of an excommunicated existence. On this summer day, the elderly, disabled Fred meets a visitor who has likewise been trapped in a half-life: a prisoner of the trauma Fred inflicted on him as a child. Refusing cathartic responses and rushed moralism-and intricately problematizing both impulses towards righteous revenge and undue forgiveness-Downstate's environment, and its sprawling connotations, open into larger questions about the risks of a moment in discourse propelled by dogmatism on both sides of the political spectrum.

Norris says, "Sometimes my task, writing-wise, is to poke at some of the weak spots in our thinking on the Left. And lately we have a tendency to categorize some people as deserving not just of punishment but permanent erasure, in a way that mimics certain tendencies of the extreme Right. Downstate was written in response to that desire, in any culture, to identify a class of enemies to whom we can freely and collectively deny any compassion or consideration or any attempt to make sense of their lives."

Norris emphasizes that this comes, in part, as a response to the cultural trend to declare certain subjects and people too dangerous or unworthy of representation in art, of taking up cultural space. "A depiction of something is not an endorsement. But I do think that witnessing the lives of characters onstage encourages identification, and if you spend two hours in the company of a group of sex offenders, do you emerge from the experience with your certainty about them momentarily disrupted? The goal is not to forgive but rather to complicate an easy and casually cruel response."

Pam MacKinnon-the Artistic Director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and a frequent collaborator of Norris' who directed productions of his plays Clybourne Park and The Qualms at Playwrights Horizons-says, "I feel very grateful to have an ongoing friendship with Bruce and deep relationship with Bruce's work. Bruce Norris plays often focus on the interruptions, both tragic and comedic, to sincere attempts at bridging experiences. His characters competitively try to get their point of view on the record. There is something mysterious and gentle and ultimately deeply sad about his writing in Downstate. There's so much incredible craft to the way Bruce presents for us a day-in-the-life, with two acts that are each one long real-time scene, of how to get by, how to stay present when the past is harrowing and the future unclear. I am looking forward to swimming again in these complicated waters."

Downstate was commissioned and previously produced by Steppenwolf Theatre Company (where it made its world premiere in 2018) and The National Theatre. The New York Times wrote, "[Norris] is not the kind of the playwright to let us bask in our smugness," declaring the play "his most serious, successful and difficult work" and praising MacKinnon's staging for keeping "its balance not by staying close to the middle but by swinging with confidence, and even swagger, to the extremes of feeling." Later in 2018, The New York Times named the production in its list of the year's best theater. Five actors from the original company remain in this production: Glenn Davis (Gio), K. Todd Freeman (Dee), Francis Guinan (Fred), Tim Hopper (Andy), and Eddie Torres (Felix). Newly cast performers include Susanna Guzmán (Ivy), Sally Murphy (Em), and Gabi Samels (Effie).

The Downstate creative team includes Todd Rosenthal (Set Designer), Clint Ramos (Costume Designer), Adam Silverman (Lighting Designer), Carolyn Downing (Sound Designer), TKTK (Stage Manager), and Thomas Dieter (Assistant Stage Manager).

Downstate marks the return of Bruce Norris to Playwrights Horizons following productions of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park, as well as The Qualms and The Pain and the Itch.

Playwrights Horizons Artistic Director Adam Greenfield says, "Bruce has a low tolerance for hypocrisy, especially among the pious sorts on trial in his scathing satires. Downstate might be his most challenging play to date. Amidst the righteous cries for justice and radical empathy in our time, he asks, 'what definitions are you using?' He refuses any easy or reductive take on the complex, capital-T Tragic, human ethical questions we encounter, whether they come from Left, Right or Center. The greatest plays are the ones that shake our foundations and examine what we collectively believe, even if that makes us squirm, or pisses us off. For thousands of years, that's what theater has done best."

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

Downstate runs October 28-December 11 and officially opens on November 15.

About Bruce Norris (Playwright)

Playwrights: The Qualms, Clybourne Park, The Pain and the Itch. Bruce's play Clybourne Park received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as well as the Olivier, Evening Standard, and Tony Awards for productions at Playwrights Horizons, the Royal Court, West End, and Broadway. Other plays include The Low Road, Domesticated, A Parallelogram, and The Unmentionables. He is a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble in Chicago and lives in New York City.

About Pam MacKinnon (Director)

Playwrights: Log Cabin, The Qualms, Clybourne Park, Completeness. PamMacKinnon serves as the Artistic Director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She is a Tony, Drama Desk, and Obie Award-winning director. Recent credits include Lydia R. Diamond's Toni Stone (Roundabout, A.C.T., Arena), Maria Irene Fornés's Fefu And Her Friends (A.C.T.), and Christopher Chen's Communion (A.C.T.). Pam is a frequent interpreter of the work of Edward Albee as well as Bruce Norris. She proudly serves on the Board of SDC, in solidarity with directors and choreographers.

About the Cast

Glenn Davis (Gio) is an accomplished actor, producer and a current Artistic Director of Steppenwolf Theatre. He garnered widespread acclaim for his performance in the world premiere of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Davis appeared most recently in King James at Steppenwolf and CTG. He will next be seen in the Off-Broadway production of the award-winning Downstate. Additional Steppenwolf performing credits include The Christians, Head of Passes, and The Brother/Sister plays. He has appeared Off-Broadway at MCC Theatre and Vineyard Theatres. Additionally, Glenn has performed at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the National Theatre, UK and the Stratford Festival. Davis is a partner at The Chatham Grove Company alongside producing partner Tarell Alvin McCraney. He is also an Artistic Associate at The Young Vic Theatre in London and at The Vineyard Theatre in New York.

K. Todd Freeman (Dee). Downstate at Steppenwolf and London's National Theatre. Broadway: The Minutes, Airline Highway (Tony nom., Drama Desk Award), Song of Jacob Zulu (Tony nom.), Wicked. Off-Broadway: Fetch Clay, Make Man (NYTW-Obie); Intelligent Homosexual's Guide, Spunk (The Public). TV: The Horror of Dolores Roach, The Rehearsal, High Maintenance, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, NYPD Blue. Film: The Same Storm, Naked Singularity, Anesthesia, The Dark Knight, Cider House Rules, Grosse Pointe Blank.

Francis Guinan (Fred) has been a member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble since 1979. He has appeared in more than 30 Steppenwolf productions including The Herd, The Night Alive, Tribes, The Birthday Party, The Book Thief, Time Stands Still, Endgame, American Buffalo, Fake, The Seafarer and August: Osage County. He has also appeared in productions for Northlight Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Writers Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, TimeLine Theatre Company and American Blues Theater. Television appearances include The Exorcist, Boss, Mike and Molly, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Frasier and several Star Trek episodes. Film work includes roles in The Last Airbender, Typing, Low Tide and Constantine. For Kate.

Susanna Guzmán (Ivy) is an Emmy-nominated actress born in East New York, Brooklyn. Theatre credits include Project Dawn (People's Light Theatre Company), La Luz de un cigarillo (Teatro La Tea, Lehman Stages), Comida de Puta (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Foggy Bottom (Abingdon Theatre Company), and Brooklyn Bridge (Minneapolis Children's Theatre). TV credits include New Amsterdam, The Outsider, Manifest, Jigsaw, Pose, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Awards: HOLA Award for Outstanding Performance, Emmy Cast Nomination.

Tim Hopper (Andy). Playwrights: David Greenspan's Go Back to Where You Are. Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member. Performed Downstate in London at The National Theatre. Films include Jennifer Reeder's upcoming Perpetrator; School of Rock; To Die For, among others. Television includes Chicago Fire, Utopia, Fargo, The Americans, Empire, and more.

Sally Murphy (Em). Broadway: The Minutes, Linda Vista, August: Osage County (also London), Fiddler on the Roof, The Wild Party, Carousel, The Grapes of Wrath (also London). Off Broadway: Admissions, A Man of No Importance, Bernarda Alba (Lincoln Center): Angel Reapers (Signature): The Threepenny Opera (Atlantic); The Apple Family Plays (The Public, Zoom), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Encores!), Brutal Imagination (Vineyard). Member Steppenwolf Theater Company. Film: Pollock, Fearless, Scent of a Woman. TV: Succession, Law and Order, Chicago Med, The Good Wife, and more.

Gabi Samels (Effie). Off-Broadway debut. Samels received her BFA in Theater from Syracuse University, where she was featured in numerous stage and film projects. Theater highlights: Dog Sees God, Really Really, A Little Night Music. Film credits include a supporting role in The Half of It (Netflix). Many thanks to the Creative Team, Casting, Cornerstone Talent, and her incredibly supportive family & friends.

Eddie Torres (Felix) has directed The Old Globe's El Borracho, Familiar, Native Gardens, Water by the Spoonful, and two readings for the Powers New Voices Festival: What You Are (2017) and El

Borracho (2020). He also one of the most recent fellows of The Old Globe Classical Directing

Fellowship. Torres directed the podcast of Macbeth for NEXT Podcast and the Play On Shakespeare series. He directed the world premiere of Kristoffer Diaz's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Victory Gardens Theater/Teatro Vista), named Best Play of 2009 by The Chicago Tribune and garnered Joseph Jefferson Awards for Best Production - Play and Best Director - Play. He has also directed at theatres Including Geffen Playhouse, Second Stage Theatre, Goodman Theatre, The Public Theater, Repertorio Español, and more. His other awards include Latin ACE Award for Best Musical and the Artistas de Teatro Independiente Award for Best Director. Torres serves as an Assistant Professor of Practice in Theater at Wesleyan University, and is Artistic Director Emeritus at Teatro Vista. As a performer, he was in Downstate, at both Steppenwolf Theatre Company and The National Theatre in London.

About the Creative Team

Todd Rosenthal (Set Designer). Broadway: August Osage County (Tony), The Motherfucker with the Hat (Tony and Outer Critics Circle Nom), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Of Mice and Men, This is Our Youth, Straight White Men, Linda Vista. International: August Osage County (London, Australia); Beauty Queen of Leenane, Madama Butterfly (Ireland); Nice Fish, Downstate (London). Other awards: Distinguished Achievement Award (USITT), Olivier, Helen Hayes, Ovation, Bay Area Theater Critics, Joseph Jefferson, Michael Merritt. Professor, Northwestern University. Graduate, Yale Drama.

Clint Ramos (Costume Designer). Playwrights Horizons: Unknown Soldier, Mankind, Belle: An American Tall Tale, Familiar, Bootycandy, After the Revolution. Broadway: Slave Play, Eclipsed, Once On This Island, Torch Song, Rose Tattoo, Sunday In The Park With George, Elephant Man, Burn This, Grand Horizons, etc. Film: Respect, Lingua Franca, etc. Awards: Tony, Drama Desk, 2 Obies, 3 Lortels, 2 ATW Hewes, etc. Producing Creative Director at NYCC Encores! @clintramos

Adam Silverman (Lighting Designer) works in opera, theatre, dance, and music. Recent productions include works with Michael Keegan-Dolan, Enda Walsh, David McVicar, Richard Jones and PJ Harvey. Silverman's work has been seen at the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, on Broadway, the West End, London's National Theatre, Chicago's Steppenwolf, English National Opera, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Théâtre du Châtelet, Royal Opera House, Opéra Bastille, Teatro Real, Bayerische Staatsoper, Festival d'Aix-en-Provence and Dublin's Gate.

Carolyn Downing (Sound Designer) is an award-winning sound designer working in theatre and across a variety of media, both nationally and internationally. Her work in theatre and live events includes Commonwealth Games Birmingham 2022 Opening Ceremony, Henry V, BLANK, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (also on Broadway), Fathers and Sons, Dimetos and Absurdia (Donmar); Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World (Kenny Wax); Normal Heart, The Welkin, Downstate (Steppenwolf), Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear - the Musical!, As You Like It, Our Country's Good, The Motherf*cker with the Hat, Dara (National Theatre); All My Sons (Old Vic); Death Of A Salesman (Young Vic and West End); Summer & Smoke (Almeida and West End, Olivier Nomination 2019), Chimerica (Almeida and West End, Olivier Award Best Sound Design 2014), Carmen Disruption and Blood Wedding (Almeida); Gypsy, Mother Courage, The Producers (Royal Exchange); The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and King John (RSC); Me And My Girl, Copenhagen and Fiddler on the Roof (Chichester); The Believers, Beautiful Burnout and Love Song (Frantic Assembly); Hope, The Pass, The Low Road and Choir Boy (Royal Court); All My Sons (Broadway).

Stage Management

Laura Smith (Production Stage Manager). Playwrights Horizons: Noura. New York: Shhhh, The Great Leap, Tell Hector I Miss Him (Atlantic Theater); Morning Sun, Bella Bella (Manhattan Theater Club); Hot Wing King, The Antipodes (Signature Theatre); Dying City (2nd Stage); The Low Road (The Public); Intractable Woman (PlayCo). Regional: National Playwrights Conference (Eugene O'Neill Theater Center); Detroit '67, As You Like It, 4000 Miles, After the Revolution, Wild With Happy (Baltimore Center Stage); Salome (STC); House of Gold, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Unmentionables (Woolly Mammoth).

Thomas Dieter (Assistant Stage Manager). Playwrights Horizons debut. Broadway: Caroline, Or Change (Roundabout Theatre Company). Off-Broadway: Kinky Boots; Golden Shield (Manhattan Theatre Club); Shhhh, The Secret Life of Bees (Atlantic Theater Company); for colored girls..., The Loophole (Public Theater); The Confession of Lily Dare (Primary Stages). Additional New York/Regional: Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Kitchen, Big Dance Theater, Ars Nova, Playwrights Realm, Williamstown Theatre Festival.

About Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons is a writer's theater dedicated to the development of contemporary American Playwrights, and to the production of innovative new work. In a city rich with cultural offerings, Playwrights Horizons' 51-year-old mission is unique among theaters of its size; the organization has distinguished itself by a steadfast commitment to centering and advancing the voice of the playwright. It's a mission that is always timely, and one that's necessary in the ongoing evolution of theater in this country.

Playwrights Horizons believes that playwrights are the great storytellers of our time, offering essential contributions to civic discourse and illuminating life's greatest paradoxes. And they believe in the singularity of a writer's voice, valuing the broad, eclectic spectrum and diversity of American writers. At Playwrights Horizons, writers are supported in every stage of their growth through commissions (engaging several of today's most imaginative playwrights each year), New Works Lab, POP Master Class series, Soundstage audio program, the Lighthouse Project, and Almanac, the organization's digital magazine.

Playwrights Horizons presents a season of productions annually on their two stages, each of which is a world, American, or New York premiere. Much like Playwrights Horizons' work, their audience is risk-taking and adventurous; and the organization is committed to strengthening their engagement and feeding their curiosity through all of its programming, onsite and online.

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