The Lifespan of a Fact, which has its digital premiere on 4-5 June, has an interesting backstory. John D’Agata wrote an article (sorry, an essay) entitled “What Happens There” in 2003.
It became subject to a fact-checking exercise by intern Jim Fingal that became so intense and detailed that it took the two men seven years to work on it, and eventually publish both original essay and detailed notes a book, “The Lifespan of a Fact”.
From this unlikely beginning, a Broadway play emerged which opened in 2018, written by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell. It tackles tough themes of suicide and mental health, but in an intriguing style.
Now it has been staged under the care of director/producer David Jarrott, filmed before a live audience in Austin, Texas. This three-hander proves a fascinating and hilarious look at fake news, interpersonal relationships, and what passes as journalism.
What makes The Lifespan of a Fact interesting is the exploration of fiction vs non-fiction, and whether journalism can survive a certain amount of creative license and still be “factual” and fair.
The play is cleverly set in three locations: the office of editor Emily Penrose (Janelle Buchanan); the workspace of Jim Fingal (Will Gibson Douglas); and the home of John D’Agata (Carlo Lorenzo Garcia).
Sometimes, as the text dictates, you can view two or three places at the same time, until the last third of this one-act drama where all three characters meet.
Fingal, who now acts as CEO of Amino Health and co-founder of technology magazine Logic, is depicted as a fellow who is tenacious about getting his facts right – such a stickler for accuracy his notes for the original 15-page essay reach to over 100 pages, plus spreadsheets.
He is nerdy but keen to impress, and after a shaky start he seems to find some common ground with D’Agata. Douglas and Garcia capture the nervous, physical energy of Fingal, and the jaded arrogance of D’Agata, a writer who has tipped into invention to keep his prose flowing fresh.
Buchanan’s Penrose is steely yet pragmatic, with an eye to both the truth and its consequences. She knows this story will put her struggling magazine back in circulation; its human touch helping a faltering print run.
The Lifespan of a Fact is an entertaining drama, running just over ninety minutes in one act, with witty lines and a definite underlying message about how journalists interpret what they see and hear, and how they can influence what readers believe.
It’s a timely piece, and I’m very pleased that Jarrott and team have continued to share digital work beyond the borders of the USA.
Image credit: Steve Rogers Photography