The Library

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 1, 2014
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall

    In this production of The Library at the Public Theater, Caitlin Gabriel (Chloë Grace Moretz) goes to school one day and ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time: 1) School. 2) One Day. The school was her high school. The day was the one when the shooter came a callin’.

    As if being in the Library wasn’t bad enough, the facts are up for grabs. According to one eye witness, Ryan Mayes (Daryl Sabara) Caitlin told the shooter where the other students were hiding. Caitlin – who is recovering from being shot herself, denies this. Her story of what happened, however, is not orderly and precise. She has a few facts to hide about her relationship with the shooter, and frankly whose business is it anyway? Caitlin never comes out and says this, but it is in the mix. It is part of what makes Burns' thought process, although not the script itself, intriguing.

    Caitlin faces the slow avalanche of public opinion with resolve. She repeats in a steady tone that she is not guilty. When no one will listen to her – not her parents and not the clergy and not the police – she reaches out to the Press. That doesn’t go so well either. The reporter says that Caitlin reveals that the girl who told the shooter where the other kids were is the current Saint of the Day, Joy Sheridan, whose last words were rumored to be prayers. Joy’s mother Dawn (Lili Taylor) is busy grieving, praying, and cashing in on the story. The article only fans the flames and sets the entire town off on rocket launchers.

    Through this all Caitlin is resolute, although she confesses that she thinks something is wrong with her. This is a teenager tossed out of the tribe and on her own. It is tragic to watch as, one by one, every person who crosses her path refuses to offer a hand.

    While the idea of this play is brave, the writing barely achieves a pulse. The construct of the play is short scene followed by short scene. In a word: cinematic. Surprise. We are left to figure out and deduce for ourselves what is really going on. The stunning set blurs the lines between what is real and what is a mirrored image. The lighting, however, is a complete puzzle ranging from what feels like strobe lights aimed at the audience, to background light that turns the characters into little more than black silhouettes. Yes I understand that these people are alienated from one another, but this production never connects them to the viewers.

    It is as though Messrs. Burns and Soderbergh decided that the shooting itself was so vile and violent that the rest of the story needed to take on a mild tone that only hinted at the pain, bitterness and hopelessness that followed. The entire cast suffers from this lack of oxygen. The normally vibrant Michael O’Keefe, Tamara Tunie and Lili Taylor are barely present. Caitlin, (despite the very fine performance by Moretz) seems to be stuck in stun mode. She is not allowed to rage against the night no matter how many times she is denied. Her candle is slowly snuffed out by people who choose one truth and who, even in the face of the facts, stay committed to that journey. In writing about these people Mr. Burns has taken on their unrelenting monotony of calm denial. As one character says “we move from tragedy to tragedy.” With no allowance for peaks and valleys, however, this is a numbing journey. More documentary than tragedy.

    "We’re scared, we’re dazzled, we’re hooked. And then the panic subsides. Like the characters onstage, we’re left looking for patterns in the chaos. These will soon emerge, with such bluntness that the audience stays well ahead of the script, not to mention the police detective investigating the crime at its center."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "On paper, “The Library” had everything going for it: direction by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, a script by his frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns, and “Carrie” starlet Chloe Grace Moretz leading the cast. But on stage, the drama about the aftershocks of a fatal school shooting lacks insight. It also self-destructs thanks to an illogical 11th-hour twist." Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "'The Library' isn’t a great play, but as staged by Steven Soderbergh, it’s a very good show. The prolific movie director may have little theater experience, but he sure knows how to create a chill."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "The play, well-acted and effectively presented (although Caitlin doesn’t seem as grievously injured as we’re told), is, at bottom, a realistic meat-and-potatoes drama, touching a number of bases. That might be a limited ambition, but the payoff is an engrossing evening." Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Moretz is the chief saving grace of Scott Z. Burns' undynamic drama about the manipulation of comforting truths and the uses of vilification in the wake of a high school shooting, a play given the illusion of substance via Steven Soderbergh's spare, stylish direction."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "This promise of A Very Important Play fades once it’s clear that the stagecraft isn’t in service of a reflective drama, just a narrow account of the blame game directed at a 16-year-old (superbly played by Chloe Grace Moretz) accused of directing the murderer to his victims." Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - The Record - Hollywood Reporter - Variety