A play about fact-checking an essay about the suicide of a Las Vegas teenager sounds the unlikely subject of a play. However, Falcon Theatre production of “The Lifespan of a Fact” presents a taught and compelling look into the fact v. fiction debate of whether artistic license in a non-fiction essay can end up being labeled as fake news.
“The Lifespan of a Fact” is directed by Ed Cohen and I commend Cohen for his superb handling of this material. Through his direction, he is able to win sympathy for each of the three characters–at times. At other times, Cohen also shows them acting in ways that make them annoying, bullying, or mean-spirited. That is an impressive feat which director Cohen deftly handles.
The center of the play is the debate is between veteran writer John D’Agata (Jay Woffington) and Harvard-educated intern Jim Fingal (Christopher Wells) assigned to fact-check D’Agata’s essay by his magazine’s editor Emily Penrose (Susan Jung).
Woffington is beautifully cast as the crusty and sometimes caustic John D’Agata. He gives a nuanced performance that has a through line of intense passion for the craft of writing and its artistic powers. His best moment are discussing his mother’s the chair. It is touching and showcases his passion through the light of love.
Christopher Wells as Jim Fingal is a bit of a surprise choice. (He has been a delight in local musical theatre productions, but I would not have immediately thought of him for this role.) However, Wells proves his chops by playing Fingal the equal in passion to D’Agata. Wells plays the role as a fact-checker extraordinaire, mixing equal parts intelligence and passion, with a side of nebbish naivete.
Wells’ gifts of comedy are put to good use here, since he brings life and humanity to this high-stakes situation.
Rounding out the cast is Susan Jung as magazine editor Emily Penrose. Jung strikes a good balance between the artistic aspirations of D’Agata and the fact-checking of Fingal. The audience feels for her as she gets sucked into this ever-growing morass. I wished the script would give her even more of a say in the debate because Jung does such a great job acting as the middle ground.
This play is based on the book by the same name and is an account actual events. The play itself is timely and thought-provoking. This production will make you both think and feel, something good theatre is supposed to do.
In short, I think and feel that “The Lifespan of a Fact” is a must-see for Cincinnati theatre audiences. With a running time of under 90 minutes, it will give audience members plenty of time to catch a drink after the show and discuss what they’ve seen. It runs January 27 to February 11, 2023, with showtimes at 8 pm. For actual dates and ticket information, call the Falcon Theatre box office (513) 479-6783 or click on https://falcontheater.net/tickets-information/