The Life-Style of a Fact, on stage now at the Kacinoky Theater, is a play based on a series of events that happened one night in Las Vegas. There were lap-dancers, game-playing chickens, and people who are living with depression mentioned in this dramatic story that was based in truth. With facts. And nothing made up at all. Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.
So…what do you think? Pretty intriguing, huh? Except, that paragraph is replete with errors. Starting with the title of the play (actually, The Lifespan of a Fact, and the name of the theatre (D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre), and very brief description of this thought-provoking script, that is based on a book that was written because of an essay that was rejected by one magazine and published after a lengthy review process by another. And it’s billed as a comedy. The real truth of that paragraph was the last sentence: Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.
In brief, real life essayist John D’Agata authored an essay about life in Las Vegas; the center of the piece was a teen who took his life. The other things – the mention of lap-dancers, the chicken playing checkers, and a million little details about appearance and perception – were woven into this work, too. D’Agata was going for a specific rhythm and cadence in his writing, using a numeric count down to emphasize key points while overemphasizing some details and underplaying others, all for the sake of flow and nuance. Was he intentionally bending facts and manipulating what is real? Or was he just cleverly re-arranging ‘truth’ to make reality more readable?
Playwrights Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell adapted this work from the book co-authored by real-life D’Agata and Jim Fingal about the seven year ordeal of actually bringing the essay to publication. Ironically, it was following some well-publicized articles on fictionalized news and a bit before the advent of what we now call “fake news.”
Director Kyle LoConti and her team did a fine job peeling back the pages of a magazine and revealing the review and publication process. She cast Peter Palmisano as the writer/essayist D’Agata; he’s properly passionate and a wee bit surly about the craft of writing itself. Brian Brown is Fingal, the fledgling fact-checker, an intern looking to prove his worth under a tight deadline. Their exchanges make the show. From Brown’s subtle bits of physical comedy as he struggles to don and doff a backpack that’s heavier than his slight frame, to their verbal dueling, these bits are best. We see Fingal’s determination to be absolute in the pursuit of facts and D’Agata’s desire to weave a compelling story, subtly weighted against a generational conflict. If Brown is tentative and stiff in the first act, he’s fiery in the second act during this war of words. These two are the perfect foils; you sense that a deeper understanding will ultimately develop here, too.
Loraine O’Donnell is the fictional editor, Emily Penrose. She’s the one who selected Fingal as the fact-checker for this piece and she’s the one who literally breaks up their fight and gets them on the path to publication. O’Donnell plays her with a furrowed brow and no-nonsense air.
In the end, is literary non-fiction held to the same standard as journalism when it comes to the fine points of accuracy? That’s the point this trio appears to ponder in the enigmatic closing moment, which reminds me of the final scene of Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention from Kavinoky’s 2009 season.
The Lifespan of a Fact runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission until June 26. Mask wearing is still required to keep us all safe and healthy. Visit http://www.kavinokytheatre.com for tickets and details.