Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Keegan Theatre

A play that will make you think about the meaning of writing with integrity when it is so intricately connected to the fragility of human life.

By: Feb. 01, 2023
Get Access To Every Broadway Story

Unlock access to every one of the hundreds of articles published daily on BroadwayWorld by logging in with one click.

Existing user? Just click login.

Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT at Keegan Theatre
L-R Sheri S. Herren and Iván Carlo in
Keegan Theatre's production of The Lifespan of A Fact.
Photo by Cameron Whitman LLC.

In a world of fake news, alternate facts, social media frenzy and an increasingly opinionated and polarized public/audience, the issues raised in the intellectually challenging play The Lifespan of a Fact are more relevant than ever. Now being presented at the Keegan Theatre, this play may be short in length, but it probingly explores the weighty issues of the passion of the essay writer/prose stylist versus the scrupulous and zealous fact-checking of the journalist/article writer.

In a tightly compressed eighty -five minutes, this intimate play consisting of three characters also explores the additional issues of who is ultimately responsible for truth and integrity when the bottom line is often looking for a good demographic/reader response, time constraints and cost constraints. Does the emotional truth of a moment -in this case, a suicide of a sixteen year-old youth in Las Vegas (by jumping off of a hotel building roof) justify sacrificing specific facts in the pursuit of an agreed-upon writing deadline?

The layers of background of this play are interesting: John D'Agata(the writer) and Jim Fingal (the fact-checker) worked on the original essay by Harper's Magazine(that was commissioned in 2003) but it was pulled from publication. The Believer magazine's decision to publish the fact-checked version (by Fingal) in January 2010. In 2012, the text of the essay and the fact-checking details was published as a book by the W.W. Norton & Company. In October 2018, that book became the adaptation of a Broadway play . That play and the play now being presented at the Keegan was written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell. Quite a lengthy context!

This play is replete with alternating comedic, ironic, and contrasting serious tones in the written text but the direction by Susan Marie Rhea is a bit too placid and low-key at times; often a more pointed interpretation would have been welcome.

The performance of Colin Smith (an actor I have enjoyed many times in the past) as the iconoclastic and taciturn author was overtly low-key and somewhat monotonous in delivery at times even when some irony or humor could have been interjected.

Sheri S. Herren as Emily Penrose, (the editor) was solid and functional but the needed fervor of her character (that of a busy and driven professional/editor) did not always break through with the the urban veneer, complexity and vigor needed at times.

Iván Carlo as Jim Fingal, (the fact -checking intern), delivered an extremely rewarding and rich portrayal of the occasionally over-eager yet extremely efficient intern. The energy needed for the battle of wills in this intriguing play is palpable whenever Mr. Carlo is onstage. Mr. Carlo nicely toggles the nuances between enthusiasm and serious intentions in his portrayal.

The set design by Matthew J. Keenan is utilized effectively -----the living room and a desk of the author and the desk of the editor are showcased downstage front ---with three black doors further upstage behind the furniture to lend depth. Artistic structures are attached to the doors.

Projections design by Jeremy Bennett adds to even further depth of the scenic design ---buildings and office suite in NYC are highlighted as well as the Las Vegas cityscape. (It did occur to me, though, that due to the extreme intimacy of the show-perhaps it would have been more effective to choose a more minimalist approach and just highlight the three characters with focused lighting and a more stripped -down stage space). The use of emails and texting in the play are highlighted to good effect via onstage screen projections.

Lighting design by Venus Gulbranson is effective and costume design by Shadia Hafiz is appropriate.

Are facts just facts and is prose simply prose or is it more complicated than that? A "Rashomon -like" drama unfolds as one is left to decide whose version of events is the correct one. The play also reminded me at times of the play Doubt-- as the ending leaves one with no decisive answer.

The Lifespan of a Fact is a play that will make you think about the meaning of writing with integrity when it is so intricately connected to the fragility of human life.

Running Time: 85 minutes with no intermission.

The Lifespan of a Fact runs through February 25, 2023, at the Keegan Theatre located at 1742 Church Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036.


To post a comment, you must register and login.

Vote Sponsor