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Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Jarrott Productions Asks Big Questions About the Nature of Truth

Virtual production streaming for two nights only!

Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Jarrott Productions Asks Big Questions About the Nature of Truth

What is a fact? What does it mean to know something and how much do we owe the truth? These are the questions asked in The Lifespan of a Fact, Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell's insightful and impassioned play about a fact checker who goes down the rabbit hole while trying to verify a story about a young man's suicide before it goes to print. Based on a true story by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, this play boldly explores themes of objectivity, narrativity, and truth as it attempts to discern the difference between emotional truth and factual truth.


The story begins with a character version of Fingal himself being brought on to fact check a piece by renowned essayist John D'Agata on the recent suicide of a teenager named Levi Presley. However, Jim and John immediately begin to butt heads as their conflicting notions of truth put them at odds.

This production by Jarrott Productions is absent of any ruffles or frills. At times, the show is almost painfully blunt, and I don't mean that to be an insult. Director David R. Jarrott places the focus squarely where it belongs: the relentless and, at times, grueling search for honesty and authenticity in a post-truth world.

This focus is visible in the way Jarrott has directed his actors. Many of the opening scenes are not terribly exciting. There is an email, a job interview, and some light back and forth over the number of strip clubs in Las Vegas. The only whiff of conflict is John refusing to answer some of Jim's questions. It's unclear what exactly is supposed to be driving this story. This is intentional.

Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Jarrott Productions Asks Big Questions About the Nature of Truth
Will Gibson Douglas and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia
Photography credit: Steve Rogers Photography

As the plot unfolds, we begin to learn more about how these characters see the world. Jim believes in the sanctity of facts - that which can be concretely verified. He believes that the only way to maintain any sense of honesty in the age of Reddit and Q-Anon is to put your faith in the hard facts and make sure everything you say is verifiable. John's philosophy is more ambiguous; he believes that emotional truth - the visceral feelings that rack the body during moments of tragedy - are more important than trivial details. Emily, their editor and, at times, mediator, believes in the power of stories to not only change but construct the world in which we live. More often than not, she finds herself playing go-between for the two impassioned yet inflexible men she is forced to collaborate with.

The true difficulty at hand, however, is not just a matter of philosophy. It is a matter of humanity and morality, as both Jim and John believe that they are the only ones advocating for young Levi. Jim finds it cruel to manipulate the facts of Levi's life and death for the sake of artistic impact. John feels that anything less than artistic license will be too processed and cold to truly honor the horror of teen suicide.

They both present their points well, and in the end, we don't get to see who wins. The play ends on a moment of unresolved tension, as both men look to Emily, pleading with her, as she picks up a call from the printer to decide whether the piece will run or not. We're left to wonder for ourselves what Emily will do, and more importantly, what she should do.

Will Gibson Douglas and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia are both excellent in their roles, bringing this tension to life with empathy and flair. Douglas's twitches and squirms convey Jim's awkwardness, and they mix nicely with his later scenes to demonstrate just how important the issue at hand is to Jim. Garcia, on the other hand, plays up John's pretension while layering in his deep sense of empathy for Levi. Sparks fly when the two start verbally sparring over whose approach to the truth makes more sense, and more importantly, whose honors Levi the most.

Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Jarrott Productions Asks Big Questions About the Nature of Truth
Janelle Buchanan
Photography credit: Steve Rogers Photography

As Emily, Janelle Buchanan is the pragmatic and controlled counterpoint. Her performance at times borders on stiff, but she pulls out some fire when Jim erroneously guesses that her commitment to the piece must be connected to some traumatic backstory.

The design work is mostly simple, supporting the no-frills approach that Jarrott has taken with the story. The most striking element, however, is Lowell Bartholomee's video design, which provides some fleeting moments of heightened reality to underscore the theme of truth in the virtual world.

Other than these heightened moments, however, the play mostly rests on its conflict of ideas. What do we owe to those we wish to honor? What does compassion and sensitivity look like? Is it honoring the indisputable facts of their existence, or is it impossible for a fact to be truly indisputable? Do we trust our senses and our emotions or do we trust only the things we can see and measure? Can two truths truly exist at one time, or must one necessarily eclipse the other? The answer is not simple, and perhaps does not exist, but, as with any truly great work of theatre, the importance is not in the answer but in the question itself.


The Lifespan of a Fact is streaming for a limited time on June 4 and 5. Tickets can be purchased for $15 per household at https://www.broadwayondemand.com/series/Coy32ZZtk74L-jarrott-productions--the-lifespan-of-a-fact. This production does contain discussions of suicide.



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