Thursday, February 13, 2020

Review of "The Lifespan of a Fact"

The Lifespan of a Fact, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through March 8, is what I term a good cheesecake show--after the performance you want to go out with friends for a slice of creamy New York cheesecake and discuss the merits and the questions pondered in the production.

There are a number of timely and important issues raised in this riveting, thought-provoking, and entertaining play.  The essential questions are who and what define a fact, in this case, within a non-fiction magazine article (or essay as the character John refers to his work)?   Is it necessary for a fact(s) to be thoroughly vetted before publication or is a cursory examination okay?  Lastly, should the author of a piece have some leeway with the veracity of the facts to allow for editorial and creative flexibility?

Playwrights Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell have taken the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal and fashioned an intriguing, rooted in truth, story.  Emily (Tasha Lawrence), the editor of a high-powered magazine, recruits Jim (Nick Lamedica), a young, eager intern, recently graduated from Harvard, to fact check an article by star journalist John (Rufus Collins).  Taking his assignment to heart, Jim begins to scrutinize the writer with what seems like, at first, the minutiae within his work, but eventually encompasses much more.  This leads to emotional-laden discussions on what exactly is a fact within the context of a truth-based article/essay.  Should a writer be handcuffed to the facts or, if the essence of the story is correct, some latitude should be allowed?  There are numerous outbursts, justifications, and pleadings by all parties.  Even Emily becomes involved in the fray, but her motives not only encompass journalistic ethics, but also the economic realities of publishing a magazine at a time of dwindling subscription numbers and the downward spiral of ad revenues.

The premise of The Lifespan of a Fact has taken on more urgency in today’s world of “fake news,” sometimes low editorial standards, and the public’s distrust of the media. 

As the 80-minute, intermission-less production progresses, you begin to take sides.  Whose argument and rationalization is more meaningful and defensible?  As someone who came of age during the Watergate investigation, where reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein famously would not print an accusation or revelation unless there were two corroborating pieces of evidence, my allegiances lean towards accuracy.  I found John’s explanations more self-serving and pompous.

The three-person cast is first-rate.  Nick Lamedica, is superb as the eager, passionate, youthfully arrogant employee.  He brings an intensity, but also innocence to the role.  Rufus Collins, projects honesty and zeal as John.  He is combative and cantankerous, but also a principled professional fervent about his methods.   Tasha Lawrence has an officious presence in a role where she is more referee between the other two characters.  Her forcefulness, though, keeps the play on track to its surprising, but satisfying ending.

Director Tracy Brigden keeps the pacing brisk, never letting the sermonizing and moralizing become too tedious and prosaic.  She smartly builds the dramatic arc slowly, layering in more information and inquiries as the play moves forward.   She skillfully meshes the comedic side of the work with the serious and contemplative aspects of the production.  Her most pivotal choice is the use of silence during key parts of the show.

Set Designer Brian Prather’s matter-of-fact two set staging is artistically augmented by Lighting Designer Brian Bembridge, Sound Designer Obadiah Eaves, and Projections Designer Zak Borovay.  They have combined their talents to transform the intimate Theaterworks space into an inspired and inventive set.

The Lifespan of a Fact, a provocative production that is sure to provoke debates and discussions.  And make mine a cherry cheesecake.

No comments: