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Journal Inquirer

‘Lifespan of a Fact’ allows audience to draw its own conclusion

Dec 10, 2018   |   Written by Tim Leininger

What is more important when reading an article or essay in any publication — making the piece compelling to read or the facts of the story?

That is the issue up for debate in “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new, thought provoking comedy on Broadway at Studio 54, written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell and directed by Leigh Silverman with a limited run through Jan. 13.

It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Jim Fingal, an aspiring journalist who is interning at a major magazine. He is tasked by his editor Emily (Cherry Jones) to fact check an essay written by pretentious, belligerent, but deeply respected essayist John D’Agata, played by Bobby Cannavale.

Emily just wants Jim to make sure names are spelled right and edit general details. Jim, being the enterprising and ambitious person that he is, does an actual in-depth fact check of Jim’s 15-page essay and finds a significant amount of false and inaccurate information.

With a deadline looming, Jim flies to Las Vegas, where John lives and where the topic of the essay is focused, and does his own investigation into the “facts” of the essay, including confronting John about the irregularities.

When Emily hears about Jim’s venture, it is up to her to negotiate peace between the two and come up with some resolution before time runs out.

What makes “The Lifespan of a Fact” even more enticing is that it is based on a real essay by D’Agata that was fact-checked by Fingal and ran in The Believer in January 2010 — it’s available to read online — and a book that D’Agata and Fingal co-authored and published in 2012. I won’t reveal the name of the essay because it is an essential plot point that shouldn’t be spoiled here, but wouldn’t be hard to find on Google.

As for how much of the play is fact or fiction, only the real people portrayed on stage know for certain.

What makes “The Lifespan of a Fact” compelling is John’s essay about the frequency of suicide in Las Vegas. Who cares if the bricks of a building were brown or red, or if there were or weren’t 34 licensed strip clubs at the time Levi S. Presley jumped off the Stratosphere Tower, he argues. What matters to him is that the character and spirit of Levi is authentically captured, and if he has to fudge a few details to make his essay sound more poetic and humanizes Levi more, then it’s worth it.

All three actors are fantastic. Radcliffe in particular was a joy to watch. His smaller stature against the towering Cannavale and the stately Jones does not diminish his ability to act toe to toe with the two, giving an impressive monologue late in the play to Cannavale that had the audience applauding.

Jones has an exceptional history of playing women of authority, and she handles Emily’s place as editor with strength, power, and slight vulnerability. Her growing exasperation with the two men is a beautiful blend of honest drama and comedic timing.

Cannavale has a great turn as John, pushing the limits of being dismissive to Jim, but not disconnecting from Radcliffe as an actor, keeping engaged with him throughout. John is not so obnoxious that the audience gets defensive with him.

Who is right and who is wrong in the arguments made throughout is subjective to each audience member.

I have my own conclusions about how the play ends, but my thoughts on that are immaterial.

You should definitely see “The Lifespan of a Fact” for yourself and come to your own conclusions. You won’t be disappointed.

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