This new play about a fact-checking dispute at a magazine feels incredibly timely.
Exploring the relationship between fact and fiction, journalism and the truth, The Lifespan of a Fact is inspired by a real-life contretemps. Three first-time Broadway playwrights, Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, have adapted the book of the same name for the stage. While slender in concept, the resulting production is frequently funny and benefits from rich performances from its cast.
Jim Fingal, a fact-checking intern played by Daniel Radcliffe, butts heads with writer John D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale) over the accuracy of D’Agata’s non-fiction essay about a teenager who killed himself. Refereeing their blowout is editor Emily (Cherry Jones).
There’s a David and Goliath element to all of this, with the inexperienced Fingal facing down a powerful editor and a writer who wants him to compromise his principals.
The performances of all three are punchy and assured. They make us feel the dramatic stakes. A scruffy Radcliffe is twitchy but bright-eyed and eager as Fingal, a man who is stronger than he lets on. He brings a straight man’s sense of timing to his delivery. Cannavale brings a sense of existential exhaustion to his character along with a blowhard’s arrogant exterior. Jones also provides a distinctive energy despite being saddled with an underwritten character.
Director Leigh Silverman’s production initially feels somewhat laborious and antiseptic though, a quality enhanced by the design, with its glass panels, projected emails, and a heavy-handed soundscape of ticking clocks. But when these projections give way to an ageing Las Vegas home with faded wallpaper and 1970s green carpeting, the humanity at the heart of this intellectual battle shines through.