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The Lifespan Of A Fact

Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale    photo by Jerry Cunningham


By Eugene Paul



John D’Agata, who had been praised for the concinnity of his work in bringing together the shit and light that is America ran into a stone wall when his essay on the consistently high suicide rate of Las Vegas was turned down by Harper’s Magazine. The piece – sorry, essay –was later published by upscale, offbeat magazine, “The Believer”. D’Agata’s ongoing conflict for seven years with fact checker Jim Fingal over his essay, became a book, “The Lifespan of a Fact”, and then, this play, The Lifespan of a Fact, with D’Agata and Fingal in the play. Daniel Radcliffe plays Jim Fingal brilliantly;  Bobby Cannavale plays John D’Agata thuggishly, a clever piece of casting. The referee between them is wonderful Cherry Jones as semi-fictional magazine editor, Emily, who realizes she has bitten off more than she can chew when her young newbie hire as fact checker, Jim, comes in with 130 pages of notes. D’agata’s essay is only 15 pages.


She is desperately squeezed time wise, enough to send him out to Las Vegas to John’s house in order for them to sort things out. And here, set designer, Mimi Lien jolts us by harshly contrasting the sleek, high tech opening scenes  in New York with D’Agata’s  modest Vegas tract house, a dwelling the antithesis of a supposed writer’s digs. In fact, it looks more like a set than it does a house, let alone a writer’s home. And since everything has to have a justification, particularly in this play, you begin to wonder why. Because the play, created out of the D’Agata/Fingal book by authors Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, is far less about the suicide rate than it is about HOW this sad, moral tale is told by its author, and whether it has scrupulously stuck to the facts.


John began his original article – sorry, essay –with the instance of a young man leaping to his death off one of the highest buildings in Las Vegas. From this, his plan was to assemble other instances and to correlate the causes in each case within the Las Vegas area, then, to relate his findings to the causes for suicides in the country, the overall design drawing conclusions  socio-politically. It was an important essay. It was about us all, young and old, rich and poor, and how we got to this crisis of families, lives and leadership.


Jim Fingal stopped it dead at the very first sentence: was the young suicide actually sixteen?  What was the exact height of the building from which he fell to his death? Of course, did he actually jump? How long did it take him to fall? And so on Facts, facts, facts. Editor Emily is appalled, but this is exactly why she hired this nerd. She cannot jeopardize her magazine to the possibility of every kind of law suit over the slightest inaccuracies especially considering the subject.


John is furious.  He is a writer, a highly respected essayist, he is a thoughtful, creative person who does his best to get to the essence, the values, the human impact of his serious work and the synthesis of his ideas and feelings. He is as accurate as he needs to be but he does not stop the flow of his ideas and concepts with nitpicking.  And he is not a liar!


Jim is outraged.  He is not a nitpicking nerd, he is a seeker of the truth, the absolute truth.  Facts are facts, the basis of everything we need, to work with, to live. We must have facts.  All business runs on facts, laws, governments, the whole world runs on facts.  You cannot deny them without tearing everything down. It’s a compelling dilemma for a play, all right, but our authors have not been generous with fleshing out the characters who have to present this vital issue without the basic juice of theatrical play making: conflict. There really are not two sides.


 Our formidable cast tackles this formidable problem with more than the usual barrel of resources.  Director Silverman needs every bit of scenic sleight of hand she can get from designer Lien and    Hudson Theatricals technicals.  She needs every bit of Linda Cho’s costume designs, of Jen Shreiver’s lighting, of Palmer Hefferan’s music and sound. She needs every bit of the personal assets as well as the talents her gifted trio of stars brings to the table because they’re simply not in the script.


  Daniel Radcliffe plants his feet and is brilliantly Jim Fingal down to the nubs.  Cherry Jones brings wafts of magic not written into the character of Emily.  Bobby Cannavale exudes an animal charm not for a minute written into the play’s D’Agata. And we need every contribution to make the play sing its song.  But – does it? This big one you decide.


The Lifespan of a Fact. At Studio 54,254 West 54th Street, near Eighth Avenue. Tickets: $99-$299. 85 Min. 212-239-6200. Thru Jan 13, 2019.