Based on a true story, THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT ponders a basic question for all writers: Is there a difference between the facts and the truth? Penned by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell from a nonfiction book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, this clever story proves to be timely and – in the midst of laughs – profound. From the initial adaptation from book to stage – the play opened on Broadway in 2018 starring Daniel Radcliffe – the production makes its West Coast premiere in 2023. When presented with the script, director Simon Levy couldn’t help asking, “When you’re writing a nonfiction piece about a real person, are ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ negotiable? Or is it okay to make stuff up for the sake of a good story?” Balancing these tricky elements is the task of THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT, the Fountain Theatre’s latest provocative and challenging production.
Jim Fingal (Jonah Robinson) is an ambitious young intern at an elite New York magazine. He is just waiting for his big chance to wow the pants off the movers and shakers running the magazine. And this may just be that golden opportunity. His editor (Inger Tudor) has called him into her office for an important new assignment – which must be thorough and completed within four days. His job? To fact check an essay written by John D’Agata (Ron Bottitta), a renowned but cantankerous author who may not be ready for this whippersnapper to critique his work.
Set in New York City (the magazine’s hub) and Las Vegas (D’Agata’s digs), the tale tracks Fingal’s journey as an emerging author – geographically, professionally, and philosophically. It seems that D’Agata has written an intense essay about a teenager who committed suicide by jumping more than 1,000 feet from the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The magazine’s editor is impressed by the power of the essay and wants to publish it immediately. But, like all reputable publishers, Fingal’s editor must insure that the facts D’Agata describes are accurate – especially from a legal standpoint. After all, no one wants to be sued. Enter Jim Fingal, an aspiring writer/intern who just happens to be one of the most obsessive-compulsive individuals around. Soon, from an essay about a dozen pages long, Fingal has listed well over 100 pages of questions about the accuracy of D’Agata’s information. It doesn’t help the situation that an irritable, cranky, and sometimes belligerent D’Agata is committed to his words – every single one of them. When Fingal shows up uninvited at D’Agata’s Las Vegas home, sparks are sure to fly.
THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT is a fascinating study of a basic ethical question – but also an absorbing exploration of the intersection of two – and then three – strong personalities with very clear-cut and immutable beliefs from which they will not budge. It also proves to be an intriguing look at issues related to maturity – youth vs. age; newly minted vs. experienced. When D’Agata stands behind the bar in his home and asks Fingal if he wants a drink, he never expects: “Do you have craft beer?”
THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT is humorous and witty as it pits these two men against each other, resulting in a hilarious slugfest between “facts” and “truth.” It is also a riveting psychological study of two men diametrically opposed to each other’s views – and a possible (or at least hopeful) mediator trying to salvage the situation. This is a stimulating analysis – not only of an idea, but also of the people willing to defend that idea at all costs. The actor’s energetic approach to the topic is also refreshing and highly entertaining. You won’t want to miss this production.
THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT runs through April 30, 2023, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Fountain Theatre is located to 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets range from $25 to $45 (seniors $35; students $25; Pay-What-You-Want Monday nights). For information and reservations, call 323-663-1525 or go online.