The Lifespan of a Fact @ The Repertory Theatre of St Louis


The Repertory Theatre’s second offering of
this season is under two hours long and has a cast of only three, unlike its first offering. But like that first offering, it has excellent
work by director Meredith McDonough, the actors, designers, and everyone involved. But The Lifespan of a Fact has a script that
I find much less satisfying than the script of Angels in America. The thrust and counter-thrust of the dialogue
make good theatre from moment to moment, but the content of the dialogue is thinner than
it could be, should be, and I think wants to be. The material explodes with issues battering
us from all sides. A well-established writer has submitted an
article about suicides in Las Vegas, where he lives, to an Atlantic-Harpers type magazine. The editor gives it to a young intern, fresh
out of college – Harvard, but still fresh – to fact-check, a standard step in the
publishing process. The printers have given the editor, and she
the intern, a five-day deadline. No slouch, he produces a 130-page spreadsheet
of his doubts and questions about the 15-page essay, some picky, some quite serious. Is this fake news? John D’Agata, the writer, considers himself
an essayist, not a journalist. If he fudges the facts a little to create
an effect that more accurately conveys the truth, he is doing what he should be doing. But, says intern Jim Fingal, if readers discover
what he’s done, won’t that threaten his credibility? How much should be believed of what he has
written? Some of it? All of it? Why not just admit that he’s created a fiction
using elements of reality, as all writers of fiction do. Mr. D’Agata does not convince me that non-truth
– truthiness, if you will, or alternate facts – can make truth. Brian Slaten, playing him at the Rep, makes
him try hard. Initially, being who he is with the reputation
he has, he can’t understand why his editor wants to put him through this ordeal. As the list of errors grows, he has to deal
with it, and he does it with arguments that, as I say, I don’t find convincing. Young Jim Fingal recognizes that he is the
junior partner, and Griffin Osborne enriches both drama and humor as his character meekly
withdraws and then boldly attacks. As editor Emily Penrose, Perri Gafffney goads
and soothes as she injects mundane concerns of money and deadlines into the lofty ethical
and aesthetic realm of the others. Designer Arnel Sancianco sets the opening
scenes in the impersonal white spaces of the magazine’s New York office. Then, with theatre magic, he transports us
to the very personal spaces of D’Agata’s Las Vegas home, all complemented by Paul Toben’s
lights. Kathleen Geldard dresses each of the three
characters appropriately and distinctively. Christian Frederickson designed the sound
and Jerran Kowalski the projections. And when the emotions burst restraints, Paul
Dennhardt choreographed the fight. The lack of intellectual rigor in The Lifespan
of a Fact disappointed me, but it’s still a good evening of theatre.

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