A multitasking, no-nonsense magazine editor, an earnest if sometimes obnoxious intern, and a talented but complicated writer who’s known to take “little liberties” with the facts—oh, man, can I relate to a story like that. OK, the female editor of the magazine in Asolo Rep’s production of The Lifespan of a Fact may have a better wardrobe than I do, but who doesn’t? I still feel her pain as she tries to get a controversial story into print by deadline.
In this play by Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell and Gordon Farrell (based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal), we’re starting with a basis in reality: Fingal really was a fact-checker on a essay by D’Agata, and their back-and-forth emails over a lengthy period brought into clear focus the risks publishing such a piece entail. In the stage version, enthusiastic young intern Jim (Derek Speedy) is thrilled to be offered the last-minute assignment by magazine editor Emily (a fictional character here, played by Tracy Michelle Arnold), and he jumps into the task with both feet.
But it’s going to be hard to make that looming deadline when Jim finds questions and discrepancies from the first sentence on. And the essayist (Gene Weygandt), who’s writing about a young man’s suicide in Las Vegas, isn’t exactly an easy writer to collaborate with. It’s not so important to him that every little detail be accurate, as long as the reader will get the larger truth of his piece through his poetic constructions. Sound familiar? In a 24-hour news universe with competing viewpoints on what constitutes “truth,” that could be a lengthy argument.
Fortunately with Lifespan, what we end up with instead is a tightly written 80 minutes, fast-paced (under the direction of Celine Rosenthal) and smart, with plenty of humor to leaven a serious subject. And, wisely, we are not distracted by too many details of the characters’ private lives here (at least not until they becomes important), so the emphasis stays on the main subject.
When the three characters do finally come face to face, in John’s Las Vegas home, there’s still plenty of comedy fireworks—but there’s heart, too, and a perfectly timed ending that does just what it should.
Performing on a set designed by Brian Prather, with projection designs by Alex Basco Koch that both present the backdrops of New York and Vegas and show us computer screens as emails are typed, the cast is excellent. Speedy is absolutely right as the nerdish (but not dispassionate) Jim, but Arnold and Weygandt get to the centers of their roles as well; Emily is tough, efficient and still believes in the importance of stories, and John is a bit arrogant, sure, but also world-weary and intense about his art. You’ll find yourself bouncing back and forth as to which side you’re on as Jim and John thrash things out—and that’s a good thing.
The Lifespan of a Fact continues in rotating rep through March 19; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.