WaPo Theater Critic Peter Marks Praises ‘Brilliant’ Play Sympathizing with Rapists, Pedophiles

Peter Marks (1)

A glowing Washington Post review of “Downstate,” a play which attempts to sympathize with rapists and pedophiles while appearing to vilify their victims, drew a barrage of backlash online for “normalizing” and “glorifying” pedophilia.

The Wednesday essay by Post columnist and theater critic Peter Marks, titled “‘Downstate’ is a play about pedophiles. It’s also brilliant,” argues that the Bruce Norris off-Broadway work is “tough stuff, questioning how society treats those convicted of heinous acts.”

Downstate, a roughly two-and-a-half hour drama currently featured at Playwrights Horizons in New York, depicts in a compassionate light four men convicted of sex crimes against minors, living together in a group home where their movements are monitored electronically.

Actor Glenn Davis, who portrays one of the offenders, says the play managed to pull off a “magic trick” in conveying the “humanity” of its cast.

“[Norris] was able to talk about these sort-of fringe characters but he was able to imbue them with humanity,” he said.

Describing playwright Bruce Norris’ “scintillating new play” as one where “the punishments inflicted on some pedophiles are so harsh and unrelenting as to be inhumane,” Marks admits “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, according to the author, Norris is indeed “questioning what degree of compassion should society fairly hold out to those who have served their time for sexual abuse, assault or rape.”

Marks asserts that the controversial play, which first premiered in 2018, was “directed with exceptional astuteness” and manages to seize “on our reflexive response to these crimes and shifts our emotional focus to the perpetrators.”

Norris’ “provocative efforts result in one of the best theater evenings of the year,” the essay continues, noting that the drama sees “the predators who’ve completed their prison terms” depicted “not as monsters but rather as complicated, troubled souls.”

Despite the “heinous offenses” committed by the men in the play, Marks says the audience “in effect [is] 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,” he writes.

Interestingly, the character Andy, whom Marks describes as “the drama’s most disagreeable character,” is in fact a victim of one of the abusers, “now grown up and portrayed all too irritatingly well by Tim Hopper.”

“The playwright cannot hide his scorn for Andy, who has made a successful life for himself as a Chicago finance guy and now seems intent on some kind of purging reunion with the man who molested him as a child on a piano bench,” he writes.

“The meeting seems to be part of Andy’s therapy, which ‘Downstate’ implies may be advisable but at this point also suggests that it is an indulgent marinating in self-pity,” he adds, describing the victim as a character “who seems both entitled to sympathy and unsympathetically entitled.”

Marks acknowledges that 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,” he writes, “‘Downstate’ is not for you.”

However, he continues, 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.”

The Yale-educated author notes that “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,” he writes.

Marks concludes that the play “is proof positive that you can love a play that turns you inside out.”

In response, many took to social media to express outrage over the “glowing” review.

“The establishment media is normalizing pedophiles and society is simply expected to go along with it,” wrote conservative commentator Ian Miles Cheong.

“These reprobates would’ve been allowed to preach their sickness unopposed, with all their critics silenced, if it wasn’t for their loss of control over Twitter,” he added in a subsequent tweet.

“If you doubt that this is GROOMING, ask yourself this: Would WaPo ever publish a review about racists. ‘Hey these are misunderstood people, and funny,’” wrote political commentator Mike Cernovich.

“That would be insta cancellation. But this … the left accepts and endorses,” he added.

“They are really going to try to normalize this, aren’t they?” wrote media personality Lisa Boothe. “Straight up evil. Protect the kids.”

“Oh look, the Washington Post is pushing Pedophile Propaganda. Not surprised in the least,” wrote Landon Starbuck, a child protection advocate.

“Y’all could have ran a story on the epidemic of child sexual exploitation and the dangers of normalizing pedophilia,” she added in another tweet. “But no, Pedo propaganda pays the bills.”

“WaPo wants us to believe they’re worried about misinformation and hate speech on Elon’s Twitter, but I think what they’re really mad about is his crackdown on pedophiles,” wrote Joel Berry, managing editor of the Babylon Bee.

“Not even trying to fake it anymore…” wrote radio host Sonnie Johnson.

“Actually read this entire piece of garbage to see if the headline was just clickbait. Nope. It’s as bad as it looks,” wrote podcast host Brittany Hughes.

“The Washington Post and @petermarksdrama are pro-pedophile,” remarked one Twitter user.

“Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the left is trying to normalize sex with kids,” wrote another.

“No amount of compassion should be given to these scum,” another user wrote. “They messed with kids.”

“Stop trying to sympathize with them,” the user added. “WP, the writer of this article and every one involved with this play should be investigated.”

The essay comes as the left-wing media continues in its attempts to destigmatize pedophilia.

Last week, Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized the media for ignoring what he deemed to be the sexual exploitation of children.

Earlier this month, high-end luxury fashion house Balenciaga came under fire for “glamorizing” child abuse and “sexualizing” children after a recent ad campaign depicted young children holding bondage-clad teddy bears along with a document referencing a U.S. Supreme Court case involving child pornography.

Last year, a “queer” lecturer at Old Dominion University asserted that adults who want sex with children are the unfair victims of social stigma.

In January, USA Today attempted to destigmatize pedophilia by portraying it as an orientation that may even be forged in the womb, while lamenting that pedophilia stands among “the most misunderstood” of sexual orientations.

The left-wing Salon magazine had previously given a platform to a self-confessed pedophile to explain his urges in sympathetic terms.

“I’m a Pedophile, But Not A Monster,” read one of the publication’s headlines.

And the New York Times has claimed that: “Arguing for the rights of scorned and misunderstood groups is never popular, particularly when they are associated with real harm. But the fact that pedophilia is so despised is precisely why our responses to it, in criminal justice and mental health, have been so inconsistent and counterproductive.”

Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.


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