Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Library **

Since I have enjoyed several films by Steven Soderbergh, I was excited to learn he would direct a play this Spring by one of his frequent collaborators, screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. My anticipation dimmed a bit when I found out that the play, now in previews at the Public Theater, was about a mass murder in a high school library. I assumed that this talented duo must have some new insight to share that would justify putting the audience through this ordeal again, even if only on stage. Such is not the case. The work is shallow, muddled and manipulative, exploiting a Columbine-like incident without deepening our understanding. Caitlin Gabriel (a fine Chloe Grace Moretz), severely wounded in the shooting, is named by classmate Ryan Mayes (Daryl Sabara) as the person who caused the death of several students by telling the gunman where they were hiding. Caitlin denies this, but no one believes her --  not her estranged parents Elizabeth (Jennifer Westfeldt) and Nolan (a smarmy Michael O'Keefe), nor her preacher (Ben Livingston), nor the detective (Tamara Tunie), especially after a dicey lie detector test. Abused by the media and reviled by her friends and neighbors, Caitlin tells a reporter that Joy Sheridan, a girl who was murdered after leading the endangered students in prayer, was the one who gave away the hiding place. Her story is distorted by the press and only inflames the situation. Joy's religious mother Dawn (Lili Taylor) finds comfort in prayer -- and a book deal. Caitlin's parents are suffering financially, but their request for a share of the victims' fund is a political hot potato. Getting a slice of the pie depends on their ability to persuade Caitlin to change her story. Meanwhile, she is undergoing repeated operations for her injuries. After all this, we get a deus ex machinae in the form of a cellphone. What was the point? What I will remember most about this play is the lighting design (by David Lander): the back wall is brightly illuminated in a series of brilliant color fields of many hues. The actors are occasionally bathed in dramatic yellow light. When the lighting is the most interesting part of a production, something is drastically wrong with the play. I must grudgingly report that the people around me seemed to be enjoying it. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

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