A skilled director can work magic, which is what Garney Johnson has done with “The Library,” a gut wrenching play penned by Scott Z. Burns about the aftermath a of a fictional high school shooting.
The imposing abstract design, lighting and staging suggest that the play’s themes will be fast paced. Fast paced and engaging it was.
“The Library” is basically a did-she-or-didn’t-she? story about 16-year-old Caitlin Gabriel, who survives a mass shooting by an unhinged former student at her school, sustaining non-fatal injuries. Her prior acquaintance with the killer comes under intense scrutiny in the investigation and media circus that follow. But the real point of dramatic contention is the allegation by Ryan Mayes, a Christian youth group member present during the shooting, that Caitlin directed the perpetrator to the A/V closet where a half-dozen students in the library were hiding.
The story centers around Caitlin, played by Morgan Wilson. Caitlin is the “bad girl” in the scenario carried forth nonstop on the news and internet. Ms. Wilson’s fine performance helps to keep us intrigued, if not always sympathetic. Emerging as the saint is another girl, Joy, whom we never meet but seems to have the loudest voice of all. Her mother, played with gifted understatement by Steffani Dambruch, has plenty to work with, but she keeps it simple. Her calm amid the various news-cycle storms is inspiring… at first. But then she flips the script on us and her quiet forgiveness of Caitlin begins to curdle as religion blurs the parameters of this senseless tragedy. The audience made sure she knew it, too, with head shakes of disappointment and gasps at some of the things she did and said to Caitlin.
Burns frames the play as a police procedural with elements of social and family drama mixed in. Enter Caitlin’s parents, played superbly by Ed Palmer and Missy Hayes Mohr.
As a child you want your parents to believe in you no matter what, and to never give up on you, but the weight of this tragedy is too much for the parents to hold on to that mantra. Caitlin’s parents were already battling a rocky marriage, and to add this on top was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mr. Palmer’s and Ms. Mohr’s portrayal was honest, sad, and at times tough to watch.
We can’t go without mentioning Ryan Mayes, played by Dale Van Slyke, the youth group member who so adamantly blames Caitlin for the deaths of the students and teacher in the closet. The scene where he recounts what he believes happened in the library with Detective Washburn (played magnificently by Dana Braxton) is a show stealer. He shows amazing range as a performer during that scene and draws us in at every description of the events that happened. When he realizes that what he believed to have happened is wrong, you immediately see the actor go through so many emotions. I applaud him.
As for that abstract design, lighting, and staging, I applaud it as well. Set designer Garney Johnson and lighting designer Derrion Hawkins kept you interested with their clever designs. The final scene is proof of that. Having the cast on stage to bring the story full circle in the space of the library was perfect. The lighting inside the bookshelves was a nice touch to an already complex lighting scheme. You can clearly tell there was meticulous attention paid to the detail of defining the spaces through set design and lighting.
Go see “The Library” at Generic Theater. You won’t regret it.
For more info or tickets, go here.