BWW Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT: Regional Premiere at Gloucester Stage Company
The Lifespan of a Fact
Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, Based on the essay/book by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal; Directed by Sam Weisman; Scenic Design, J. Michael Griggs; Lighting Design, Marcy Barbeau; Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley; Sound Design, Dewey Dellay; Props Design, Lauren Corcuera; Stage Manager, Marsha Smith; Assistant Stage Manager, Olivia Paluzzi
Performances through September 22 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 E. Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.com
When the Gloucester Stage Company announced that its 40th anniversary season would include the regional premiere of the critically-acclaimed The Lifespan of a Fact, it held the promise of being a feather in the cap of the small North Shore theater. A 16-week, SRO run at Studio 54 in New York, which ended in January, featured a starry cast with Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale. Undaunted, GSC mounts its production with local luminary and Academy Award nominee Lindsay Crouse, New York and Off-Broadway actor Mickey Solis, and recent Harvard University graduate Derek Speedy, making his Gloucester debut, under the direction of the estimable Sam Weisman. The result is a stylish chapeau, topped with a bounty of colorful plumage, that ought to elevate the company's stature and impress their devoted audience.
Based on the 2012 essay/book co-written by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, The Lifespan of a Fact explores the conflict between an unorthodox author (D'Agata) and the young fact-checker (Fingal) assigned by his magazine editor to vet a groundbreaking piece about a teen's suicide in Las Vegas. Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell collaborated to adapt the non-traditional book into a script that harbors a generous helping of character-driven comedy, even as it delves into the serious subject of truth versus accuracy versus fiction in the world of publishing. It is hard to imagine a more timely topic as the fourth estate is under constant attack by the Administration and the First Amendment plays second fiddle to the Second Amendment. In his own defense, D'Agata shuns the label of journalist, referring to himself as an essayist, and believes that this hair-splitting permits him to write so-called "creative nonfiction."
The play has the capacity to smack us squarely on the nose, especially when D'Agata (Solis) asserts, "I'm not interested in accuracy; I'm interested in truth." His agenda is to tell a good story, and if fudging the facts can better engage his audience, it's for a greater purpose. Young Fingal (Speedy) is entrenched in his righteousness as the defender of journalistic standards, while also hoping to establish his creds and make a name for himself with the editor. Emily Penrose (Crouse) is tough and competent, but not without some inner turmoil as she juggles the magazine's need for a big story against the responsibility to adhere to those same standards. Over the course of five days, Emily referees an escalating tug of war between the two men, challenging her impartiality and racing against a deadline. The battle lines are drawn between the two philosophies: "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" (Fingal) and "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" (D'Agata). To their credit, the playwrights engage their audience by eschewing easy answers and encouraging discussion of the gray areas on both sides of the arguments.
Crouse's character is the fulcrum around which the play pivots, and her performance ranges from low key to high intensity. She captures Emily's goal-driven focus, her ability to stay outside of the fray, and her closely guarded personal life. At times, it is difficult to hear some snippets of her dialogue, but even without the words, Crouse conveys the nuances of this complex woman and the relationships she shares with D'Agata and Fingal. Although at first he comes across as an arrogant divo, Solis gradually peels back the layers of D'Agata to show his passion for his work and his deep feelings about the subject matter of his essay. Speedy inhabits his character, displaying appropriate zeal, and makes a strong impression with his ability to go toe to toe with his veteran scene partners.
Weisman's steady hand guides the ebb and flow of story and characters, building the tension and releasing the pressure appropriately. The design team (J. Michael Griggs, scenic; Marcy Barbeau, lighting; Gail Astrid Buckley, costume; Dewey Dellay, sound; Lauren Corcuera, props) creates a fluid environment that benefits from a minimalist aesthetic, with set pieces and furnishings rolled on and off to change scenes; employing overhead screens to mark the passage of days, as well as to show correspondence between the characters; dressing the actors in attire that befits their character's persona; and filling the spaces between scenes with variations in light and music. If each component of The Lifespan of a Fact is like a colorful feather, in the end you have a well-made hat.