Review Roundup: THE LIBRARY
Written by Scott Z. Burns and directed by Steven Soderbergh, this world premiere of The Library began previews at The Public on March 25 and runs through April 27 in The Public's Newman Theater with an official press opening tonight, April 15.
The complete cast of The Library features Ben Livingston (Reverend Dunston, ADA Thornton); Chloë Grace Moretz (Caitlin Gabriel); Michael O'Keefe (Nolan Gabriel); Daryl Sabara (Ryan Mayes); Lili Taylor (Dawn Sheridan); David L. Townsend (Publisher, Agent Murtaugh); Tamara Tunie (Detective); and Jennifer Westfeldt (Elizabeth Gabriel).
After Caitlin Gabriel survives a deadly shooting at her high school, she struggles to tell her story to her parents, the authorities and anyone who will listen. But there are other narratives that gain purchase in the media and paint her in a different light. Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh returns to the stage with this bold and chilling world premiere that asks us to examine our relationship to the truth and the lies that claim to heal us.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Mr. Soderbergh brings a past master's skill to the beginning of his and Mr. Burns's maiden outing on the New York stage. 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...That we know better, or think we do, gives "The Library" the contours of a young adult novel, in which a truth-telling adolescent is pitted against a hypocritical grown-up world...Certainly, this production couldn't do better for a female variation on Holden than Ms. Moretz... Moretz, who is 17, acts her age here, which is harder than it sounds. She conveys the pain that comes with being that age, exponentially multiplied by tragedy, with seeming effortlessness. More important, she combines raw vulnerability with a defensive, secretive air, which is crucial to making us wonder if Caitlin is telling all she knows.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: As the audience enters before The Library begins, Chloe Grace Moretz lies immobile on a table downstage, wearing a hospital gown. But when this terrific young actress gets up and about in her first major theater role, she shows the same preternatural self-possession that has distinguished her screen work, even when forced to wade through puddles of speechy dialogue. 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.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: 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 girl (superbly played by Chloe Grace Moretz) accused of directing the murderer to his victims.
Linda Winer, Newsday: The play has been directed with emotional clarity and an exquisitely discerning eye by Steven Soderbergh, the chameleonic Oscar-winning director ("Traffic") who recently retired from film to explore other art forms. But the play, by his frequent screenwriter Scott Z. Burns ("Contagion," "The Informant!") dwells on the familiar questions -- most wrapped in the "Rashomon" idea about whose memory is truth. For much of the early scenes, there is also the uncomfortable aura of grief porn -- that is, the allure of suffering that we know so well from nonstop TV interviews. But there is something wonderful in the center of the drama, and that is the radiant, delicately powerful talent of Chloë Grace Moretz. The rising teen movie star...is altogether believable and complicated as Caitlin...
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Soderbergh's lean, stark staging -- enhanced by David Lander's dramatic lighting, which includes flashes of red and other vivid hues at key points, and Darron L. West and M. Florian Staab's ominous sound design -- emphasizes the common and complex humanity that binds the characters. Seventeen-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz...relays both Caitlin's shock and confusion, as well as her determination not to let others convince her that she is delusional or immoral. Jennifer Westfeldt and Michael O'Keefe are similarly effective as her fragile mother and frustrated dad, who are facing their own struggles, individually and as a couple. Lili Taylor delivers a standout performance as Joy's mom, Dawn, who clings to her piety and to recollections of her late daughter's virtue.
Jesse Green, Vulture: Soderbergh has directed for the theater before but is obviously best known for his films, and his work here demonstrates not just the lordly effect any director can have on a stage work but the heightened effect of a director descending from Mt. Hollywood...It's all very static and beautiful, especially David Lander's dim, saturated lighting, which emphasizes the impersonality of the narrative by barely letting us see anyone's face. The result, as Soderbergh must have intended, is like a wet blanket thrown over a fire, dousing emotion in favor of thought. It's an effect intensified by the small-bore -- indeed movielike -- underplaying of the cast. You can sense them doing excellent work, especially the enchanting Chloë Grace Moretz as Caitlin, and Jennifer Westfeldt and Michael O'Keefe as her parents. But most of that work seems to vaporize in the intellectual space between them and us, which is a creepy problem in a play about mass murder. It is a play, after all, not a film; perhaps someone should have read the part of that astronomy text explaining that the world -- including the world of the stage -- is not flat.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: 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...Soderbergh has said he has had it with directing films. In his Off-Broadway debut he guides a good-looking but uneven production. Secondary roles are one-note and stiff. He's better at coming up with atmosphere. Characters look like lab specimens on the brightly lit set.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: "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...Other aspects of "The Library" aren't as spot-on as that title -- a big plot contrivance tars an otherwise suspenseful confrontation toward the end. But overall Burns steers clear from both pathos and finger-pointing. Soderbergh's cold, clinical staging also counteracts the loaded subject...Some may complain that "The Library" is too emotionally detached, but that's actually a strength: It's rare to see a show take a step back so the audience can think.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Moretz's Caitlin Gabriel is the bad girl in this scenario carried forth on nonstop cable news, and the actress's fine performance, a stage debut, helps to keep us intrigued, if not always sympathetic...Soderbergh directs what could be described as an ultra-minimalist production...In contrast, he directs his actors as if the camera's eye has them caught in close-up for the play's entire 100 minutes...The power of "The Library" is such that, once the police report is issued, Burns tidies up his drama too quickly. Taylor's mother alone deserves at least another scene. What this woman is up to may be worth a whole other act.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus