The Lifespan of a Fact at Lantern Theater

With a title like “Lifespan of a Fact,” I knew I had to see the latest production by Lantern Theater Company. There seemed to be so many possibilities. It turned out those possibilities or facts, were the fabrication used to enhance an essay that John D’Agata wrote for a magazine. And when fact-checker Jim Fingal is assigned to make sure that the information, slated to appear in the magazine is accurate, things begin to unravel. It’s a most interesting story that deals with fake news… or is it.

            D’Agata has written about a suicide of a young man, from the tower at the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas. In it are loads of details- the number of deaths in Vegas that day, the number of strip clubs that closed that week, claiming a woman was visiting from Mississippi when she was a Las Vegas resident. He has a thing for numbers and alters the facts so they fit into his esoteric vision. Often, he is telling half-truths. “The wrong facts get in the way,” he says at one point. We discover this because the magazine editor, Emily Penrose has selected Fingal,  an intern at the magazine to corroborate it all before it goes to press.

            Fingal is a Harvard grad who wants to rise in the publishing ranks. He is meticulous. He does more research than D’Agata. He interviews people. He checks the newspapers. He even flies out to Las Vegas. He questions the cantankerous D’Agata, then challenges him. D’Agata resents that a young kid who is challenging him. He tells him that facts are not pure. But Fingal does not accept the writer’s compromising truth for what he says is art. When he reports back to Penrose, she has a dilemma. She had a deadline and D’Agata’s story IS a powerful one. How much fact checking does she want?

            Most of the 90 minute play revolves around the arguments between the writer and the fact checker. It is a very interesting for a while. It is full on lots of one-line zingers. But it quickly gets tiresome for me. The play is an interesting analysis of the kind of liberty a writer has when writing, not fiction, but a factual essay. In fact, the production felt like a long essay itself.

Perhaps it would be an interesting one-act piece, I thought. But for it be a successful full length play, it needed more. Director Matt Pfeiffer has not given us that extra dimension, that it needed- feeling. What are the characters thinking as the scuffle? Ian Merriill Peakes did give us that in his portrayal of D’Agata, but Trevor William Fayle as Fingal, simply spit out line after line of his discoveries about the fraud. Even Joanna Liao’s Penrose could have shown us more angst in the awkward position she found herself.

The play has been successful in its many productions since it first appeared on Broadway in 2018. I would love to see it again with a deeper look into the characters.

“The Lifespan of a Fact” at Lantern Theater Co., St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th & Ludlow Streets, Phila., PA 19107, 215-829-0395,  Thru March 5, 2023.

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