Contributor Lindsay B. Davis reviews The Library, a theatrical collaboration between Hollywood heavyweights Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh.
In The Public Theater’s The Library, two film veterans—writer Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, The Informant, Contagion, co-writer of Bourne Ultimatum) and Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brokovich, sex, lies, and videotape)—tackle the topic of gun violence in American schools by awakening the Off Broadway theater community to a few ideas they’ve probably debated over Sunday brunch or a recent cocktail party: the media is sensationalistic, law enforcement just wants to close a case, Bible thumpers are hypocritical, surgeons are arrogant, teenagers struggle with emotions and guns are bad.
The narrative centers on Caitlin Gabriel (Chloë Grace Moretz in her stage debut), who survives being shot in the Golden Valley High School’s library, only to become the subject of an investigation for possibly aiding the gunman during the attack. The plot maneuvers its way through a “Did she do it?” canal but never feels terribly suspenseful.
Meanwhile, Caitlin’s parents, Elizabeth Gabriel (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Nolan Gabriel (Michael O’Keefe), whose marriage is under attack thanks to the former’s alcoholism and latter’s extramarital affairs, struggle to support Caitlin through the recovery from her gunshot wounds against the backdrop of their unspecified town’s (“Somewhere in the United States of America”) increasingly accusatory, witch hunt-esque treatment of their little girl. Amongst the most vocal is a fellow student’s very Christian mother, Dawn Sheridan (Lili Taylor), whose daughter died in the attack. There is also Ryan Mayes (Daryl Sabara), Caitlin’s fellow student who was present at the time of the shooting and becomes a key witness who struggles with trauma from the event.
Unfortunately, Soderbergh’s direction misfires. The best theater is not slick or sanitized. It’s hot and intimate, but The Library doesn’t pack heat. Stark lighting scheme hide the actors’ faces to the detriment of being able to connect. The set—a collection of silver tables and chairs used to establish the inside of a library, operating room, or the family home on which the characters occasionally stand to make direct addresses to the audience or each other—is too experimental for this story, particularly in combination with the harsh lighting design.
While Moretz (Kick Ass 2, Carrie, Dark Shadows, Hugo) does fine work as an adolescent defending her truth without necessarily speaking it, we are cheated from being able to experience the beauty of her work. Of her supporting players Taylor (Three Sisters, The Dead Eye Boy, Aunt Dan and Lemon), Westfeldt (Wonderful Town, 24 Hour Plays) and O’Keefe (Reckless, Side Man, The Fifth of July), while all experienced film and stage actors, only Taylor really resonates. This has a lot to do with a production that seems more intent to disturb by way visual effects and all too familiar sounding characters that border on the stereotypical.
I hate to say it, but this Soderbergh-Burns brainchild would make a far better movie.
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Through April 27
Lindsay B. Davis is an arts/culture journalist and theater artist living in New York City.