"Dead White Males," for example, revolves around "a rookie history teacher who goes from idealist to burnout as she fights insidious internal politics in her effort to truly affect her students."
The play is meant to reveal a problem the audience could be aware of but might not be.
"We go through our lives with problems all around us," he said. "We live with the problems. A play like this, you laugh at the problems, laugh at what's going on, then you go home and maybe do something about it."
Downs said "Dead White Males" isn't the kind of show most people are expecting when they go to a theater.
"Our stages are filled with 'Always, Patsy Cline,'" he said. "Most of our plays don't say anything. Most of our movies don't say anything.
"You go and watch an action/adventure sequence and you know from the beginning that the good guy is going to win and the guy is going to get the girl. You live vicariously for a while and then it's over, but you really don't take away something to think about."
Audiences are used to be solely entertained. They aren't used to being challenged, and Downs thinks that's a waste.
"With entertainment, the goal is to reaffirm the audiences values to make them feel good about who they are and what they believe."
Art challenges that. It's not interested in the audience's opinion.
"An artist says, 'I have something I want to say and my goal is to say it.'"
Art, Downs said, is heavily censored these days, not necessarily because the powers-that-be fear new ideas, but because they want to make it more profitable to sell.
"We'd rather be entertained than learn," he added.
Still, Downs prefers what he does now, what he's done for the last 20 years, to what he did as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. It's a better life.
"I don't miss Hollywood," he said. "The only thing good about it was the money."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.