‘Lifespan of a Fact’ opens July 11 at Actors Theatre Playhouse

WEST CHESTERFIELD, N.H.-Lifespan of a Fact will be presented at Actors Theatre Playhouse (ATP) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, July 11 through 27, at 7:30 p.m.

With Dennis Scott as John D'Agata and Leo Mousseau as Jim Fingal, Lifespan of a Fact asks the question: What's more important? Writing the truth, or telling a good story?

Fingal is a fresh-out-of-Harvard fact-checker for a prominent but sinking New York magazine. D'Agata is a talented writer with a transcendent essay about the suicide of a teenage boy - an essay that could save the magazine from collapse. When Fingal is assigned to fact-check D'Agata's essay, the two come head to head in a comedic yet gripping battle of facts versus truth.

Variety describes the play as having "terrifically funny dialogue [...] once the writer and the fact-checker get into a lively debate on the ethics of factual truth vs. the beauty of literary dishonesty, it's time to really sit up and listen. [...] The debate at the heart of this play transcends comedy and demands serious attention."

The Washington Post calls it "buoyantly literate. [...] wholly resonant questions [are] wrestled with in this briskly entertaining play. [...] You'll find yourself happy to have your preconceptions disturbed and assumptions unsettled."

According to director Burt Tepfer, he chose Lifespan of a Fact for the current ATP season because "I really like plays that make you think, make you laugh, make you feel. This play does all three. Plus, the whole subject is so relevant for our times. We have to figure out the truth of what we read and hear.

"John, the writer, sees himself as an essayist, which he believes gives him poetic license in examining large issues to alter facts to get at greater truths. Jim, the fact-checker, holds to a strict journalistic standard that what we read in journalism has to be factual and accurate. Emily, the editor-in-chief, tries to navigate between the two to find solid ground. She knows if her publication loses credibility, everything goes out the window. All the arguments are cogent. It's left to you, the audience, to decide."

According to Tepfer, the play is based on an actual event. Harper's commissioned author D'Agata in 2003 to write an essay about the suicide in Las Vegas of a young teen. D'Agata's focus grew from researching that tragic event to examining the culture and environment of Las Vegas itself, and why the suicide rate there is so high.

After Harper's rejected the article, D'Agata submitted it to a different publication. Fingal took his responsibility as fact-checker extremely seriously. The two soon were at loggerheads - for seven years. The article was eventually published. Subsequently, they wrote a book together about their experience.

Tepfer said this play is based on their book, but condenses the action to five days - the pressure of a deadline exacerbates the tension. In the play, he says, the editor believes the article is immediately relevant and urgent. She's driven to have this piece published quickly. She's an ethical journalist, but she also understands how facts can fall short of explaining why.

All tickets are $17, and are available at Advanced ticket purchase is strongly recommended.

This Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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