News / Arts & Entertainment

Conflicting 'Truths' About Tragedy Play Out on NY Stage

"The Library" actors Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael O'Keefe, and Jennifer Westfeldt.
Americans last week dealt with another seemingly unprovoked school attack - this one by a Pittsburgh student with two kitchen knives. New York theater-goers have a chance to explore the emotion surrounding these events.

The Library, a new play at New York’s Public Theater, unfolds after a school shooting and peers into the shattered lives of the survivors, and the stories they tell.  The play is directed by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh, and written by Scott Z. Burns, who has worked with Soderbergh on three films, before they turned their attention to the stage. 

Even before the play begins, Soderbergh and Burns make the audience uneasy.  When you enter the theater, a young woman in a hospital gown lies center stage on what could be a table or a bed or a slab in the morgue, said playwright Scott Z. Burns.

"People start having to invent, you know, which is: Is she alive?  Is she not alive?  And so they’re already, before we’ve said anything, experiencing what the play is about, which is, you know, you start assembling facts and truths into stories that support your belief set and allow you to keep going," said Burns.

Once the play starts, the audience discovers that the young woman onstage is a high school sophomore named Caitlin Gabriel and, although she’s survived a violent massacre, one of the other survivors has gone on TV and accused her of telling the gunman where several victims were hiding. 

"And so Caitlin Gabriel wakes up out of her induced coma, basically, and she finds out right then and there that not only is her best friend that she was laying beside dead, but that she’s now being accused of being an accomplice to the murder of six children and one faculty member," said 17-year-old film actress Chlöe Grace Moretz who is making her stage debut as Caitlin.

As the characters attempt to untangle the truth, each of them, kids and parents, try to control the narrative, often publicly, on television and in newspapers.

Director Steven Soderbergh has seen that happen after real massacres.

"We were fascinated by not only the idea of competing stories that have to do battle, but also another story or another myth that often comes out of events like these is that somehow everyone who goes through a tragedy is somehow ennobled by it, if they survive," he said. "And we were interested in sort of proposing a more realistic version of that story, which is: some people that go through tragedies like this are just damaged."

It was the story of one survivor of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that prompted Scott Z. Burns to write the play.  He recalled that shortly after the massacre, in which two students killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, misinformation about some of the victims and survivors began to proliferate.

"So when stories get out - you know, especially now when we have a lot of unfiltered media that finds its way into our eyes and ears very quickly after these things - it’s hard to get it back," Burns explained.

Actress Chlöe Grace Moretz puts it even more simply.

"It’s like the whisper game you play at camp, you know, where one person whispers at the other end of the table and then they all whisper the same thing and then by the end of it, you find out it’s a completely different story," she said.

The playwright and director chose not to focus on the gunman.  If there’s an antagonist in the story, it’s the mother of one of the victims, who deals with her loss by writing a book and consulting on a film, both of which sanctify her daughter and accuse Caitlin of leading the gunman to other victims.

Throughout the play, as new information about the characters and events is revealed, director Steven Soderbergh said audience members begin to question their own beliefs.

"The story sort of comes at you in waves, you know what I mean?  Like we experience the news cycle - sort of every scene there’s another shoe that drops and you go, “Oh boy.  Now I have to rethink what I’ve been watching,” he said.

The posters for The Library say the play is “based on future events.”  And, unfortunately, as recent events have illustrated, that may prove all too true.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs

African Music Treasures