Do facts really matter when there are so many opinions regarding what constitutes a truth?
That question is at the heart of John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s 2012 book, The Lifespan of a Fact, now a Broadway play. Currently showing at Studio 54, the new production, which debuted Sept. 20 and runs for 16 weeks, prompts its audience to reflect on what is fact, what is fiction, and why the discrepancy between both matters, a theme all the more relevant in 2018.
The story goes as follows: An editor assigns an intern to fact check a story on a boy’s suicide, written by a diva journalist. Wanting to prove his worth, the intern strives to do his best on the assignment, finding out that facts to him are not the truth to the writer.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Fingal, the intern who uncovers falsehoods in the article– wait, no, the writer prefers the term “essay.” That writer, the one who believes fluid facts tell better truths, is played by Bobby Cannavale, known for his roles in Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl. Adding to the three-person cast is Emmy-winning actress Cherry Jones, who plays the boss lady that perhaps cares too deeply for her intern and writer.
The small cast is necessary. A story filled with many twists, turns and philosophical questions that, in reality, accounted for years, was shrunk into four days (95 minutes) of a play. That kind of information-packed marathon would’ve failed miserably if handfuls of people tried to portray the madness.
Radcliffe undoubtedly fueled the show, displaying a constant confidence and veteran mobility as he delivered his lines and walked from leaving scene to incoming scene (sets moved from stage right to stage left when scenes switched). His rhythmic reciting of long lines remained strong, breathlessness only showing when needed for added drama.
Quick quips were often made by Radcliffe against Cannavale, proving the Harry Potter star can continue playing the role of brainiac savior even after leaving Hogwarts for Studio 54.
Cannavale played a journalist well, even though journalists would likely want to stay far, far away from comparisons with dishonest D’Agata, whether in reality or onstage. At times it seemed as though the disgruntled writer role was overkill. But the dramatic portrayal seems to mimic not a cartoonized idea of a journalist, but the real-life thinking of a writer who believed fibbing in work allowed for truth in reading.
The rivalry between an over-achieving intern and a troubled, probably unshowered writer kept its energy throughout the show, at times only because of Jones’ role of caring editor came with enduring honesty.
The show kept its pace, but an overload of dialogue at times created anxious feelings similar to those viewers might experience while watching Gilmore Girls for the first time.
Regardless of what the unclear ending causes one to conclude about the play’s central question, the production makes the mundane task of fact-checking an interesting adventure, a win for the cast and a win for journalists — and a truth that real fact-checkers would not struggle to prove.