Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
The Lifespan of a Fact
Also see Fred's review of Manahatta
in 2002, an adolescent boy committed suicide in Las Vegas and John D'Agata (Rufus Collins), a writer and college teacher living in that area, penned an essay about the tragedy. As the play begins, editor Emily Penrose (Tasha Lawrence) searches for someone to fact-check D'Agata's prose. She wants to run the piece soon in her magazine, sensing that the material is potent stuff which might even be award winning. Jim Fingal (Nick LaMedica), a recent Harvard grad hotshot appears, and he is smart, zestful and audacious. Emily harps on the "good-faith effort" necessary to ensure credibility, while Fingal, personified by LaMedica as excessively annoying but also appealing, examines each word, phrase, sentence and implication D'Agata provides.
The real essay did not find its way quickly to the printed page, even if D'Agata began writing it in 2003; a magazine called "The Believer" published the piece in 2010. D'Agata and Fingal wrote a book entitled "The Lifespan of a Fact" together, published in 2012. The Lifespan of a Fact, as a play, opened in New York in 2018. The stage version stands by itself as illuminating and eventually gripping. The three playwrights, who have collaborated adroitly, manage to slip in quite a bit of comedy as well. So much the better.
Fingal flies out to Vegas to make certain he, trying to track down inaccuracies, gets it right. Before you know it, Emily grabs a flight from New York City and arrives there, too. She, metaphorically, gets in between these two men: the gnarled, grizzled writer who will verbally blast anyone who dubs his essays as articles, and the tousled-haired pest-like twentysomething kid. Emily is resolute, but also a compassionate person. She finds and accepts herself in the midst of two seemingly oppositional men, serving as both editor and mediator. D'Agata is a gifted writer who understands both veracity and drama. Jim, who is bright, proceeds in straight-ahead fashion. He desires to be best at this job. Fingal will not be put off his chase.
The three actors are precisely cast: each is spot-on superb. They are distinctive matches for these characters. Watch actress Tasha Lawrence as the production begins: her expression is terse and her jaw is tension-filled. As Emily interviews Final, he is wide-eyed and jumpy. As D'Agata, Collins' visage is weary and well-worn. D'Agata has witnessed and experienced his share of difficulty and, at this life juncture, he is forcing himself to push forward. When he takes a look at the students' blue books of compositions before him, part and parcel of college instruction, his approach is rote.
The audience has a choice of characters with whom they might identify or sympathize (it might be revealing to poll those in attendance who have written or edited). Both D'Agata and FIngal make defensible points.
Set designer Brian Prather supplies, at first, just a couple of chairs, but that will yield to much more. Adding depth to the show's look are designer Zachary Borovay's projections which, at pivotal moments, display actual dialogue on a large, three-sided frame situated above and around the stage. The words add another dimension.
John D'Agata tells all that he seeks truth. Fingal listens, but he's already caught in his quest to get every little detail right. Please consider the current political climate in America. We live at a time during which "fake news" has oftentimes been mentioned or alleged. That perspective is helpful while taking in The Lifespan of a Fact, a play rich in give-and-take and, finally, emotional result.
Brigden does an admirable job of pulling the production together. Filled with agitating sequences, this show tingles with almost constant excitement.
The Lifespan of a Fact runs through March 8, 2020, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 86-527-7838 or visit twhartford.org.