Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Lifespan of a Fact (review)

Photo by Jenny Graham
Spoilers ahoy!

How do we make sense of the world in which we live?  Especially those parts in which we are not directly involved?  Sounds like a heavy subject, doesn't it?  Well, yeah.

All the more reason to turn it into a comedy, am I right?  I cannot remember offhand if Oscar Wilde or G.B.Shaw said "if you tell the truth, make sure you make people laugh, or they will kill you."

The Lifespan of a Fact is long (circa 80 min) one act comedy about this issue.  Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell  based on a nonfiction book by  John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, it follows the misadventures of when an intern Fingal (Jonah Robinson) for a magazine is tasked to do the final fact check on an essay about the suicide of a young man in Las Vegas.  He takes the job very seriously.  I think few would doubt he goes too far.  I mean, who cares if the moon is closer to a quarter than half full?  If that detail made a difference, sure, but it boggles the mind how that detail might.  The exact color of some bricks?  Exactly how many strip clubs are in Las Vegas on a given date?  

He even ends up flying to Las Vegas and meets the famous author of the essay, John D'Agata (Ron Bottitta), which goes rather worse and better than one might expect.  Not least because Fingal drew up charts to show a traffic jam one witness described could not be possible with the numbers described.

All this about an essay, not an article.  In fact D'Agata seethes in anger when anyone calls what he wrote an article.  

D'Agata calls up Fingal's editor, Emily Primrose (Inger Tudor), who in turn ends up flying out to Las Vegas from New York, just in time to find D'Agata's hands around Fingal's throat.  If this sounds like the stuff of comedy, you have hit a bullseye.  All this is extremely funny, not least the inherent conflict with this frankly entitled but honest and intelligent young man and a weathered, deservedly-renowned writer a long way from being young in almost any way.  They rub each other the wrong way, and their mutual arrogance smooths over exactly nothing.  

Yet, as Primrose stares agog at Fingal's 130+ pages of spread sheets to fact check a 15 page essay, she also spots some genuine problems.  Things that are inaccurate in ways that do matter, which D'Agata resists.  Adding to the conflict, which gets increasingly serious, increasingly passionate and confusing, is one consensus shared--namely, here is an essay of great power about modern life and the human condition.

The deadline looms, one that cannot be changed under any circumstances, and they continue to debate, passionately.  Will nitpickers descend upon the piece, insisting the exact number of cancer deaths that day must be precisely correct or else every word D'Agata wrote is worthless?  Fingal eventually becomes so frustrated he notes there's no real proof the young man in question is actually dead--his body was smashed by jumping off a building and there was no DNA test on the remains.  Likewise, he continues to make a strong point that facts are indeed truth, which means dismissing them corrodes trust as well as judgment.  Well, does he not have a point?  

While Fingal flails around, facing an existential crisis about his most dearly held beliefs, D'Agata finds himself having to defend himself in ways he perhaps never has, and in truth he clearly is in the wrong sometimes.  While Primrose, who must make the final decision, listens to both and fends off both sometimes fighting dirty (at least emotionally).  

It makes for very good comedy, but even better drama.  

The Lifespan of a Fact plays through April 2: Fridays, Saturdays & Mondays @ 8 p.m. / Sundays @ 2 p.m. (dark Monday, Feb. 20 & Monday, March 13) The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. Los Angeles CA 90029 (Fountain at Normandie). Patrons required to wear masks throughout the performance.

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