×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘The Library’ Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh brings stagecraft to a thin play, in a production anchored by Chloe Grace Moretz's superb lead performance.

With:
Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Livingston, Michael O'Keefe, Daryl Sabara, Lili Taylor, David L. Townsend, Tamara Tunie, Jennifer Westfeldt.

A skilled director can work magic, which is what Steven Soderbergh has done with “The Library,” a thin play penned by Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (“Side Effects,” “Contagion,” “The Informant!”) about the aftermath of a high school shooting. The imposing abstract design and expressionistic staging suggest that the play’s themes will have depth and resonance.  But 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.

The prodigiously talented Moretz (the vengeful heroine of the made-over “Carrie”) commands the stage as Caitlin Gabriel, a sophomore at the ironically named Golden Valley High School, who caught a shotgun blast when a former student went ballistic and mowed down more than a dozen kids who were studying in the library. Jennifer Westfeldt (writer-director-star of indie “Friends With Kids”) is the other cast standout as Caitlin’s distraught mother, torn between mother-love and the sneaking suspicion that her daughter might, indeed, have betrayed her schoolmates.

Caitlin is the bulls-eye focus of the play, which the scribe has constructed in fragmented scenes that track her thoughts as well as her actual whereabouts. Color-coded by lighting designer David Lander (screaming red is the color he splashes on the back wall whenever the attack is referenced), the stage is a bare and sterile landscape in Riccardo Hernandez’s austere design. Body-ready gurneys are lined up everywhere, but all attention is riveted on the gurney where Caitlin is lying near death in the operating room where surgeons are frantically trying to piece her together again.

In Moretz’s poised perf, Caitlin is a sensible girl, not a narcissist, a bully or a bitch. The realization that no one, not even her parents, believes in her innocence comes to her gradually, and the young thesp makes that slow-dawning insight harrowing to watch.

For quite different reasons, Lili Taylor’s performance as Dawn Sheridan, the mother of one of the dead students and Caitlin’s chief accuser, is also painful to watch.  Taylor does her best, but the character is a gargoyle. A bible-thumping religious fanatic who is also a canny opportunist, Dawn uses one student’s version of events to fabricate a money-making myth in which her brave daughter was shot while leading the trapped students in prayer, and while cowardly Caitlin was pointing the shooter to his targets.

“I want to defend my daughter, keep her meaning alive,” is her shameless sales pitch to a potential publisher interested in buying her grief journal.

Burns has done his play a disservice by narrowing the focus to a “she said/she said” smackdown between this manipulative monster who drew 3,000 people to the vigil she organized for her martyred daughter, and poor, defenseless Caitlin, who has been undergoing a series of surgeries while trying to escape the howling mob of public outrage.

As strident and overbearing as it plays, this scenario would still make an impact as a single plot thread in a larger dramatic context.  But the scribe seems unable to get beyond the cries for Caitlin’s blood.  Little is said about the actual killer — not his history, his home life, his friends, his motives, his school records, or his psychological triggers.  Not even his music playlists.  Just broad hints that the kid was a creep.

More regrettably, even less is said about school massacres as a modern day phenomenon.  With everyone lighting candles, singing hymns and writing bad poetry, no one in this brain-dead town seems remotely interested in anything about the deaths of their children, except which one of two terrified girls instinctively tried to survive an incomprehensible horror.

Off Broadway Review: 'The Library' Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Public Theater (Newman Theater); 299 seats; $80 top.  Opened April 15, 2014. Reviewed April 12.  Running time:  ONE HOUR, 30 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater production of a play in one act by Scott Z. Burns.

Creative: Directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Sets, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Gabriel Berry; lighting, David Lander; sound, Darron L. West & M. Florian Staab; production stage manager, M. William Shiner.

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Livingston, Michael O'Keefe, Daryl Sabara, Lili Taylor, David L. Townsend, Tamara Tunie, Jennifer Westfeldt.

More Legit

  • Stephanie Dalton City National Bank

    Why City National Handles Financing for Half the Shows on Broadway

    Seen a Broadway show lately? If the answer is yes, then there’s a pretty good chance that Stephanie Dalton and her team at City National Bank have played a role in the financial life of the production. That can mean anything from managing the cash that a show takes in at the box office to [...]

  • Broadway Theater Placeholder

    The Great Green Way: Inside Broadway's Economic Boom

    Here’s an old Broadway story, probably apocryphal, but with the ring of truth: A worried producer checks in on his ticket sales to see how his show is doing. “We had a terrible night, boss,” the treasurer tells him. “We did one penny.” The producer sulks through Shubert Alley and runs into a rival. “How’s [...]

  • SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership

    SpotCo and Tanna Inc. Announce Partnership for Broadway Ticket Sales and More

    Marketing and branding agency SpotCo and independent analytics firm Tanna Inc. have teamed up to offer their expertise in attempts to optimize ticket sales, revenue, and inventory management for Broadway shows, Variety has learned. Clients will have access to a tailored, personal tool-belt from SpotCo’s co-managing director Stephen Santore and Tanna Inc. founder and president [...]

  • Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys

    Listen: Bryan Cranston on the Exhausting Joys of Broadway

    For anyone who doubts that being a Broadway actor can be grueling, let Bryan Cranston set you straight. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a cumulative effect of fatigue that happens on the Broadway schedule that no amount of sleep the night before is going to wash away,” the Emmy and Tony-winning actor [...]

  • Jeff Daniels Variety Broadway to Kill

    How 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Beat the Odds to Deliver a Broadway Smash

    Jeff Daniels slumps into a chair in the Shubert Theatre, grasping an oversize Starbucks and looking bone-crushingly exhausted. His eyelids are heavy, and he seems like a man in desperate need of rest. It’s easy to understand why. It’s late March, and Daniels has just given his 100th Broadway performance as Atticus Finch, the small-town attorney [...]

  • ZZ Top, Caesars Entertainment Team on

    ZZ Top, Caesars Team for Jukebox Musical 'Sharp Dressed Man' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top and Caesars Entertainment are developing “Sharp Dressed Man,” a jukebox musical set to open next year in Las Vegas featuring the band’s greatest hits. Members Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard are all serving as executive producers. “Sharp Dressed Man” is described as an “outrageous, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content