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Actress Maddie Corman on being 'brave' after a family ordeal


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: A New York play explores what happens to a family after the father is arrested for downloading and trading child pornography on the Internet.

Hari Sreenivasan sat down with the actress wife who has written an emotional drama about the searing experience.

It's part of Canvas, our ongoing coverage of arts and culture.

Maddie Corman: I see a decent human beings who have done some unspeakable things.

Hari Sreenivasan: In this play, you start out with a line that I want to read out. It says: "This isn't one of those shows where I'm here to tell you that I was OK and that I wasn't OK, but now I am OK."

Where are you four years out.

Maddie Corman: You know, I hate the word journey, but I guess I'm on the journey. And I have days where they're both amazing and excruciatingly difficult.

Hari Sreenivasan: Difficult and complicated.

Maddie Corman is a working actress seen in several television series and movies, including "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Maid in Manhattan."

Alexander, also an actor, but more recently a frequent director of "Law & Order."

Man: A Dobbs Ferry actor and TV director has pleaded guilty to child pornography charges today.

Hari Sreenivasan: In 2015, Alexander was arrested at home for having child pornography on his computer. He wasn't charged with any physical or sexual abuse of any children, including his own. Alexander pled guilty, was sentenced to 10 years probation, and forced to register as a sex offender.

Probably one of the first questions that people are going to have when they watch this or hear about it is, why are you still with him? Why is he helping raise your children?

Maddie Corman: Yes.

You know -- and I understand that question. It's not a fun question. It's not something I ever thought that I would have to defend or explain. It's one of the reasons I think that I can't explain it in a two-minute sound bite. I can barely do it in my 90-minute show.

Hari Sreenivasan: "Accidentally Brave," a one-act, one-woman show, is running Off Broadway in New York City. Maddie recounts learning and eventually reckoning with her husband's use of child pornography.

Maddie Corman: And I start to feel something start to feel something I can't quite put into words, but it is compassion, which I can't feel for my own partner, at least not yet.

Hari Sreenivasan: Through it all, despite her anger, upset and shame, Corman decided to stay with Alexander, moving from the suburbs into New York City and starting over, something her family could afford.

Maddie Corman: I am incredibly aware of the privilege. And I'm also very aware that there are other victims in this crime, not just my kids and my family and me, that there are people who are very badly hurt by child pornography.

Hari Sreenivasan: Yes.

In the play, Corman tries to answer that basic question: Why is she still with her husband? A decision that took her many months to reach.

Maddie Corman: This is a person that I love, that I had been with for 20 years, who has what I think is an illness that he is dealing with and making amends for. And he's a good person who did a bad thing. I mean, that's the simple way to say it.

Hari Sreenivasan: When this initially happened, were you concerned for the safety of your children and balancing that with this person that you loved?

Maddie Corman: I wasn't concerned for the safety of my children around him. I never thought that he would hurt my children. This is a big thing to have happen in your life, and then to have it be public, which it was.

But whether I stayed married to my husband or not, this is the father, so they were going to have to deal with this in some way or another.

Hari Sreenivasan: The family had no choice but to deal with the fallout from the arrest, but the play was a choice, One Maddie made intentionally in the hope, she says, of helping others as a friend helped her.

Maddie Corman: So instead of all the people saying, "I feel so sorry for you," she said, "I feel sorry with you."

And at one point, I said, "How can I ever pay you back?" And she said, "You will just do it for someone else."

And I tell him, I will never, ever be OK with the things that you chose to look at.

What I do is tell stories. So this just seemed like an actual way to do service, to share something that I have been through that maybe will help someone else who feels so alone, because it's a very, very lonely feeling when your life suddenly takes a turn, and it's not what it was supposed to look like.

Keith Miller: Anything that helps people discuss uncomfortable topics, I think should be embraced.

Hari Sreenivasan: Couples therapist Keith Miller believes there is value in Corman's efforts.

Keith Miller: The people behind abuse or violence are not monsters. They're humans. And I think it does us a disservice when we make up a story or mythology and say those people should be put away and never thought about, because what it does is, it puts us further away from prevention education and all the contact points that are really necessary for engagement with a complex thing like trauma.

Maddie Corman: I'm me. I shared everything with you. How could you not trust me with that?

Hari Sreenivasan: You have teenagers now. You have one in college. This is a lot for a teenage mind or even a college mind to process.

Maddie Corman: Yes.

Hari Sreenivasan: How are the kids?

Maddie Corman: In the play, I say this, and I say this in my life. I can answer that, but, really, you should ask them. I mean, that's their story to tell.

The fear of traumatizing my kids or just bringing something back up that's calmed down is living in fear, not living in truth, because this happened. This is not going to go away if we don't talk about it for a few months. This is not going to go off the Internet if I don't do this play.

The story was already in the paper. I mean, I think some people say I'm brave to tell this story.

Hari Sreenivasan: And, for now, Maddie Corman is trying to stay brave, accidentally or not.

For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm Hari Sreenivasan in New York City.

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