AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, to a new play that tackles an uncomfortable, contemporary topic head on. It's called "The Library." It looks at the aftermath of a school shooting, and peers into the shattered lives of the survivors. The play is written by Scott Z. Burns and is directed by filmmaker Steven Soderbergh. As Jeff Lunden reports, the play has just opened at New York's Public Theater.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: 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, says playwright Scott Z. Burns.

SCOTT Z. BURNS: People start having to invent a story, 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.

LUNDEN: 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. Seventeen-year-old film actress Chloe Grace Moretz is making her stage debut as Caitlin.

CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY "THE LIBRARY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Then he went over to these two girls. I think he recognized one of them - Caitlin Gabriel - and they started talking. He asked her where the others were hiding and she said, the AV closet, they're in the AV closet.

LUNDEN: The rest of the play is not just about untangling the truth, but how each of these characters - kids and parents - try to control the narrative, often publicly, on television and in newspapers, says director Steven Soderbergh.

STEVEN SODERBERGH: 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. 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.

LUNDEN: It was the story of one survivor of the Columbine shooting - Val Schnurr - which convinced Scott Z. Burns to write the play. Shortly after the massacre in 1999, misinformation about some of the victims and survivors began to proliferate.

SODERBERGH: And 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.

LUNDEN: Actress Chloe Grace Moretz puts it even more simply.

MORETZ: 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 by the end of it, you find out it's a completely different story.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY "THE LIBRARY")

MORETZ: (As Caitlin) Hey, Brit. Look, are you ever going to call me back? I just talked to the police, and you didn't tell me you talked to them, too. I wish you would've told me that. Can't you just come over?

LUNDEN: The playwright and director have chosen 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. Actress Lili Taylor plays her.

LILI TAYLOR: I feel like I've got to have empathy for my characters, but I don't have to necessarily like them. I don't have to agree with the way they go about their life. Sure, there's certain things I feel that are kind of preventing her from getting a full picture. But I also think that people have these belief systems for a reason, and you know, I hear if you take that system away, they'll fall apart.

LUNDEN: She confronts Caitlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY "THE LIBRARY")

TAYLOR: (As character) But I don't want to hear it from the paper, Catie. I want to hear it from you. I need to know your story.

MORETZ: (As Caitlin) My story.

TAYLOR: (As character) What happened, from your perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What you told the police.

MORETZ: (As Caitlin) Um - OK. Well, I remember he asked me if I knew who he was, and I thought he was worried about being identified so I said no, even though I did.

TAYLOR: (As character) I see. You were trying to protect yourself.

MORETZ: (As Caitlin) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Of course she was.

TAYLOR: (As character) And that meant telling him where the others were hiding.

MORETZ: (As Caitlin) No. No, I don't remember saying that.

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

SODERBERGH: The story sort of comes at you in waves, 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.

LUNDEN: Audiences will have a limited opportunity to make up their own minds. "The Library" is at the Public Theater through April 27th. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.