Washington City Paper Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, & Gordon Farrell. Photo: Cameron Whitman
The Lifespan of a Fact Opines on Fact or Fiction in the Internet Age
Making its D.C. premiere at Keegan Theatre, the play, under Susan Marie Rhea’s deft direction, finds both humor and meaning in ethics.

It is a Wednesday at the offices of a prestigious, storied, and yet unnamed American magazine. Editor Emily Penrose (Sheri S. Herren) summons intern Jim Fingal (Iván Carlo) to her desk. Acclaimed essayist John D’Agata (Colin Smith) has submitted a piece about the 2002 suicide of 16-year-old Levi Presley in Las Vegas, but D’Agata has a reputation for “taking liberties with the facts” and Penrose wants Fingal to fact check the story in time for a Monday morning deadline; otherwise she will be forced to run a more banal story about congressional spouses.

Herren plays Penrose (the play’s one fictitious character: the sort of composite who shows up in D’Agata’s essays) with the needed gravitas. She has a magazine to run, contingency plans to execute, and smart, talented people working for her who don’t see the larger picture, as she attempts to negotiate what corrections can be made. Smith is comically arrogant, cantankerous, and curmudgeonly as D’Agata, as he deals with Carlo’s excitable, data-driven Fingal, but the script also allows him to show D’Agata’s grief at the recent loss of his mother, and to describe with empathy his visit with Presley’s grieving parents.

Keegan Theatre’s scenic designer and lead carpenter Matthew J. Keenan has created the framework of a house, with wood beams and doors that give form even as they point to the absence of walls. Likewise the floor of the stage looks like the horizontal lines arranged in vertical columns: A newspaper or magazine page template for an article before the text and images have been filled in and sent to the printer. Projections designer Jeremy Bennett provides a montage of images seemingly repurposed from videos selling corporate office space, real estate, and other investment opportunities in Las Vegas, while Brandon Cook’s sound design largely reflects that aesthetic.

Director Susan Marie Rhea deftly handles the transition from workplace farce, complete with one liners and slapstick, to the ethics of telling the truth when the subject is suicide. But as much as Fingal’s character is represented as being comically overeager to check if the color of bricks, traffic patterns, and even the prepositions are factually correct, he is allowed to make the most prophetic comment on the role of facts: In the internet age, a critical mass of falsehoods, whether by accident, in pursuit of a holistic “truth,” or with malice, can launch a thousand conspiracy theorists.