A troubling new play at Manhattan’s Public Theater begins with an eerie scene of a girl laid out on a table as if in a mortuary, and ends with an enigmatic question. For the 90 minutes in between, the audience witnesses what happens after a disturbed former student opens fire in the crowded library of his high school, initiating the kind of deadly rampage that has sadly become a familiar feature of contemporary American life.
The play is called “The Library.” It echoes like the latest school shooting.
We’re not giving away any of playwright Scott Z. Burns’ script by recounting its closing words. In matter-of-fact tones, several characters describe in detail the three different firearms used with abandon by the gunman. Then Chloe Grace Moretz, the brilliant leading actress who plays a student survivor of the shooting, says: “You’re left with only your scars to mark the void. All you could choose to do is go on, or not.”
To which her character’s mother replies: “Did that help?”
There, with dramatic economy, Burns lays it out: the instruments of carnage; the stark emotional toll, the challenge to the audience. Will this drama, inspired partly by the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, help galvanize the public? Will the fact that it all seems so familiar finally rouse our civic anger?
If Columbine didn’t bring about sensible, national gun safety laws, and Virginia Tech didn’t, and Gabrielle Giffords’ near death-experience didn’t, and even Newtown didn’t, what will?
The recent announcement that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million this year building a nationwide grassroots network to motivate voters who feel strongly about curbing gun violence may provide the answer. Bloomberg is certainly asking the right question: Why should one organization, the National Rifle Association, exercise such overwhelming political power when it reflects only a fraction of American public opinion?
“They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you,’” Bloomberg said of the NRA in an interview with The New York Times, explaining how the lobby threatened to attack politicians who refused to go along with its pro-gun agenda. So, Bloomberg added, “We’ve got to make them afraid of us.”