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Bruce Norris on His New Play about Paroled Sex Offenders

The Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright dishes on Downstate, which he set in southern Illinois. It runs at Steppenwolf September 20 through November 4.

Bruce Norris
Photo: Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Why take on this touchy subject?

I wanted to ask a question beyond “How do we appropriately care for the victims of sex offenders?” How does life continue for the people who commit those crimes? We have a special level of condemnation for this crime.

Why is that?

Historically, there’s always been an urge to have people we can haul into the public square and hang from the gibbet. My brother asked why I always write about people I hate. I feel compassion for those who’ve fucked up their lives. If you want to extend compassion in the world, you have to extend it to everyone, not just to those you think deserve it.

Are you concerned about the reception?

Everyone at Steppenwolf is super worried that people will call me a rape apologist or something. Me, I thrive on people yelling at me. Just kidding. I like people to like the things I do.

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