Theater Review by Jerald Raymond Pierce
2 out of 4
The topic of school shootings is a tough one to write a play about. It affects everyone either directly or indirectly on some level and should be treated with tact and care. That being said, it is possible to be too cautious when approaching the subject. It’s possible to work so hard to tiptoe around the difficult meat of the topic that the topic itself becomes an afterthought. That’s what happens here with The Library. The play works so hard to focus on one aspect of the fallout of one particular school shooting that the fact that the play revolved around that subject at all becomes almost inconsequential. That is a disservice to the topic.
The Library’s plot follows a high school girl who, after being present during a shooting in her school’s library, is accused of assisting the shooter by telling him where other students were hiding. It’s an interesting thought experiment as the play grapples with where truth lies when people are ready and willing to assign blame. Especially in today’s climate, it’s a critical look at facts and whose word you are willing to believe and why. However, honing in on that idea essentially makes the fact that this play is about a school shooting moot. Though, the ineffectiveness of the overall theme can’t be blamed entirely on the play itself.
In a play about truth, the cast of this production has startling difficulties with honesty. The suspense and tension of this story relies on everyone being so emotionally distraught from this tragic event and so desperate for answers that every word they say is presented as fact. After all, why would anyone around something as awful as a school shooting lie about the events? So the audience is presented with conflicting stories. Did Caitlin Gabriel (played here by Lindsey Markham) help the shooter or not? Well, here’s the issue with the performances: It’s so obvious that a key person in the charge against Caitlin is lying that it’s impossible to understand that side of the debate from that moment forward. To make matters worse, that character shouldn’t even know he’s incorrect in what he remembers.
While part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the actors, I have to place the majority on the shoulders of director Logan Hulick. They play the ending. From the beginning, the actors are playing the present like they know the future. Once you can’t get behind the emotional struggle of the characters, other aspects of the performance begin to stick out. There were moments of awkward blocking—a specific example that comes to mind is when Caitlin reveals that her stomach wound has reopened. She has a sling on her right arm and is blocked in the far downstage left corner. Her propped up arm blocks that reveal. Simple issues like this were more common than should be comfortable. Add the inability for any scene to find a solid button or ending and clunky transitions and the production begins to feel a bit mushy.
Scott Z. Burns’ The Library is a good play. It utilizes the raw emotions of the victims of a tragedy to showcase how point of view can strangely determine truth in our heads. The example he uses is holding a finger in front of your face and then closing one eye. The finger appears to move. The truth hasn’t changed, merely the way you look at it. That’s a really fascinating topic to explore, especially in today’s political climate. But Level 11’s production couldn’t match the honesty and believability needed to capture the tension of the uncomfortable situation.
Level 11 Theatre presents the Chicago Premiere of The Library by Scott Z. Burns. Performances run at The Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. To reserve seats, visit www.level11theatre.org. Tickets will also be available at the door. For more information, visit www.theatreinchicago.com.
Jerald Raymond Pierce is a journalist, stage manager, actor, director, and playwright in the Chicago area with an MA in Arts Journalism from Syracuse University and a BFA in Acting from Ohio University. He also is a contributor to American Theatre magazine and an editor for ShowSnob.com. When he’s not spending unnecessary amounts of money on sports tickets, theatre tickets, and random travels, he’s probably ranting about Doctor Who, time travel, and the general merits of current television and movie writers.