News / Arts & Entertainment

Conflicting 'Truths' About Tragedy Play Out on NY Stage

"The Library" actors Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael O'Keefe, and Jennifer Westfeldt.
"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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."