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Just shy of a year ago which seems crazy to think about now, myself and other patrons sat in the familiar space surrounded by familiar faces to embark on a journey with a group of characters outside our normalcy. Think about that sentence for a minute.

Almost a year later and we are still trying to grasp our ideals of what "normalcy" truly means. Nonetheless, the fine staff at Stageworks Theatre in Tampa's Channelside District opened their doors once more to present an evening of live, socially distanced in-person performances to remove our weary minds of the mundane, and help us escape what has now become our new normal.

With names delegated on seats socially distanced away from other patrons, and masks donned by staff and audience alike, it had the welcoming feeling of being home once more. Aside from the temperature checks and socially distanced restroom protocols, the welcoming feeling of old and new friends gathering in a familiar place was comforting and much needed. The staff at Stageworks should be commended here for their top-notch protocols in place there was not an uneasy feeling to be had. Producing Artistic Director Karla Hartley welcomed everyone in her speech and with candor and compassion welcomed us back into the doors of a space we all know and love. A beautiful homage to those personally affected...stars have been placed across the front row of the audience which made for a touching tribute in these times.

The lights dimmed and the show began and that feeling of warmth and excitement rushed over me once again. The Lifespan of a Fact written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell is based on the true story of D'Agata's essay "What Happens There." The story follows Fingal, who has a small job: to fact-check articles for one of the best magazines in the country. His boss has given him a big assignment: to apply his skill to a groundbreaking piece by legendary author D'Agata. But now Fingal has a huge problem. D'Agata made up a lot of his article. What starts professional quickly becomes profane.

The play opens with Emily sitting at her desk and typing out an email. When I first saw the set I commented about how stark the set was, which made sense later on with the wonderful use of projections displayed on the walls. As the audience, we could see the emails being typed as they were being read-aloud. Emily played by the incomparable Susan Haldeman is strong-willed and icy at times but there is a layer hidden under the surface yet to be revealed. As the editor for the magazine, she is the perfect Miranda Priestly and Enid all rolled into one. She has the iciness of both down to a skill that is so flawless you wish to see more. Her performance is reminiscent of Meryl Streep and Candice Bergen in their iconic roles respectively. She is abrasive and demanding but at the same time wishes to see the best in others. There is a secret she is hiding and only she can reveal its true nature.

Enter Jim Fingal played exceptionally well by Chris Jackson. You can tell from the start Jim is green but hungry as every good intern should be. He wants his work to matter and wants to prove he's got what it takes to his boss. Jim Fingal is a combination of David Rose and Patrick Brewer from Schitt's Creek. He's so nuanced and full of layers. Each scene is like peeling away an onion you just want to see more. He's a bowl of sarcasm, wit, intelligence, and quirky disposition that is oftentimes humorous. He wants to do his best and will go to whatever means necessary to achieve it.

When Jim is given the task to fact-check John's "article" all hell breaks loose literally. From the first email, you find that John doesn't call his work "articles" but rather "essays" and a hilarious email conversation follows. To the point where Jim ends up on John's couch in Vegas thousands of miles away from his office in New York. Jim is neurotic at best, and most times you cannot tell whether he is coming or going, and it's a joy to watch.

Jim has some lines that are so parallel to what is happening even today. He almost questions John's moral compass when he says, "You're more likely to kill yourself in Vegas than any other place, why is that? Is it the gambling, or the flashy pursuit of the American Dream?"

John D'Agata is a foul, obtrusive, almost rude, and exceptionally arrogant man, and it's scary good. Masterfully played by the exceptional Ned Averill-Snell. Each time Snell's D'Agata enters the space he commands the stage with so much gusto it blows the roof off. Snell is so precise in every moment-to-moment you sense his motions before he reacts. Every line is shown on his face, every gesture, every guttural besmirch delivered is so nuanced you cannot look away. Imagine if Sam Elliott and Jeff Bridges were meshed into the same person and absorbed by Snell you would find at the root of it all; this very John D'Agata. This is a masterclass in acting and it's delivered by an even more exceptional actor, and probably the finest Bay-Area actor we've seen on stage by far, it is truly that good.

John has so many lines that truly hit home. When talking about the essay Jim asks an important question about suicide, to which John replies, "There is nowhere forward, you just want the pain to stop." When questioned about his accuracy in his writings John replies, "I'm not interested in accuracy, I'm interested in the truth." I think one of the most telling moments in John's character has to be the recollection of his dead mother. You can physically see his pain and emotionally feel his pain right along with him.

John's moment-to-moment with Jim when the papers are being moved from the couch to the table and back again is so precise it is just magical to watch how it all unfolds. He even has a moment that is almost paying homage to Dead Poet's Society with his standing on the coffee table, "Oh Captain, My Captain" delivery. John's back and forth with Emily is just as wonderful. Even the cute moment of agreement they have on the couch shows the human side to both of them. Even under the icy disposition and the arrogant obtrusive personality there is heart and for a brief moment it humanizes the two in the grand scheme of the story and it's a nice moment.

Director Karla Hartley, Assistant Director Clareann Despain, and crew have put together an exceptional and exquisite work of art with The Lifespan of a Fact. From the unique set design which folds out into a revolve to reveal John's house, to a top-notch cast that could be seen on a national stage this is a show you don't want to miss. The story is so culturally-relevant to today and I think that is what makes this work. In a world succumbing to the media and its everyday chaos, this story fits like a glove. I think Jim says it best when he says, "There is nothing easier for people to do than cook up conspiracy theories." All of which is brought on by the mainstream media, in an age where Social Media is just as big as the news conglomerates that run the world; where do we find the truth in advertising? Where do we assimilate fact vs. fiction? Once we do find it, how long will it last before something else is conjured up?

These and more are the questions we ask ourselves in this age of our new normal. I will say this, however, there is a final couple of moments in this show that is worth every price of admission. I will not give it away here, but it is so powerful you have to catch it. This show from top to bottom is a stellar Masterclass of magnanimous proportions that we are so incredibly lucky to have the chance to witness. Only on-stage through February 28th, so head to to purchase tickets before they sell out. There is also an option for digital viewing as well. I for one am happy to have Stageworks back and with this incredible production of The Lifespan of a Fact it is a welcomed embrace back home.

Photo Credit: Stageworks Theatre

From This Author - Drew Eberhard

Review: An Experimentally Avant-Garde Staging of Jonathan Larson's RENT at Eight O'Clock Theatre
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As the final play written by the great Neil Simon, Rose & Walsh previously entitled Rose’s Dilemma ran in Los Angeles and Off-Broadway in 2003. Originally starring Mary Tyler Moore in early previews, Moore left the production when Simon sent a letter citing her to learn her lines. Neil Simon’s works include the very popular Eugene Trilogy (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound), and other great works including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, I Ought to Be in Pictures, among many other prolific pieces both onstage and onscreen. Spanning a career writing more than 30 plays and numerous screenplays, Simon has received more Oscar and Tony Award Nominations than any other writer. Simon passed away on August 26, 2018, leaving behind a legacy as one of the great Stage and Screenwriters of his time. Rose & Walsh makes its premiere at freeFall Theatre Company on July 30, 2022, boasting an exceptionally strong cast, this production will be one you want to see multiple times over.

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