Conflicting stories and incredible heartache are at the brutal center of Scott Z. Burns’ riveting 2014 drama The Library, terrifically presented by Playground Theatre and the University of Dayton in UD’s Black Box Theatre of Fitz Hall.
Inspired by a series of events which spun out of control in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre 20 years ago, The Library, expertly and fluidly directed with grippingly intimate intensity by Michelle Hayford, concerns 16-year-old Caitlin Gabriel, a sophomore who survives a school shooting yet surprisingly becomes a community outcast. Caitlin’s account of the horrific event, particularly about her devout Christian classmate Joy Sheridan who was among the deceased, is at odds with what her fellow survivors believe. The play is effectively fueled by questions of whose truth, whose narrative, carries the most weight (a dicey blame game that even becomes fodder for surgery gossip), but the drama dealing with Caitlin’s home life, specifically her father’s infidelity, is an unnecessarily heavy-handed distraction. Still, the secrets and lies bolstered by misinformation in the media shaped around the dueling perspectives of Caitlin and Joy’s grieving, opportunistic mother Dawn heighten the play’s thought-provoking impact.
Jillian Mitchell, in a breakthrough performance, is an emotional knockout as conflicted Caitlin, whose intriguing relationship with gunman Marshall Bauer (an unnerving Skyler McNeely, who also composes an engrossing score) briefly takes the play to a deeply, fittingly disturbing level. Playground co-founders/artistic directors Chris Hahn and Jenna Valyn are a believably fractured duo as Caitlin’s devoted and worried parents Nolan and Elizabeth. The multifaceted Rae Buchanan shines as the religious, unyielding Dawn, who walks in faith without realizing her faults. Jacob Lee also delivers a strong breakthrough performance as Joy’s churchgoing friend Ryan Mayes, seeking to protect her legacy. A wonderfully authoritative Jenna Gomes De Gruy excels as Detective Washburn, whose recounting of the shooting sets up a dynamic finale impressively accented by Andrew Martin’s striking lighting design. Brett Bartlett (Nurse), Annabelle Harsch (Surgeon), William Boatwright Jr. (The Publisher), AJ Breslin (Father Dunston), and Shaun Diggs (Special Master Thornton) greatly complement the action.
Two months ago, primarily in response to last year’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which killed 17 people, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation requiring a universal background check for firearm purchases, the first major gun control legislation in Congress in nearly 25 years. Burns unfortunately avoids the gun control debate, a misstep which also hindered Eric Ulloa’s Sandy Hook-inspired drama 26 Pebbles produced by the Human Race Theatre Company in 2017, but there’s no denying the timeliness of his script’s underlying message. After all, The Library is a testament to the serious work that must be done in order for true healing to begin in America.
The Library continues through April 28 in the University of Dayton’s Black Box Theatre of Fitz Hall, corner of Brown and Caldwell Streets, Dayton. The play is performed in 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission. Performances are 8 pm Friday, 2 and 8 pm Saturday, and 2 pm Sunday. Tickets are $5-$12. For tickets or more information, call (937) 229-2545 or visit udaytontickets.com. Patrons are advised that talkbacks will follow each performance.