Should the truth be allowed to get in the way of telling a good story?
That’s the timely question raised in “The Lifespan of a Fact,” the play running through Nov. 10 on the mainstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Directed by Meredith McDonough, the comedy-drama is based on a 2012 book by essayist John D’Agata and fact-checker Jim Fingal.
At the heart of the book, and the stage adaptation by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, is a battle over the accuracy of D’Agata’s essay about the culture of suicide in Las Vegas. D’Agata argues for his right to artistic license; Fingal insists that he must stick to the facts.
Last year’s Broadway production starred Bobby Cannavale as D’Agata, Daniel Radcliffe as Fingal and Cherry Jones as editor Emily Penrose (a fictional character). At the Rep, the roles are played by Brian Slaten, Griffin Osborne and Perri Gaffney, respectively.
Recently, Slaten, who was born and grew up in Chesterfield, spoke with Go! Magazine about the play and his career. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q • Did you read the book that the play is based on, and was it helpful in portraying D’Agata?
A • I did, and it was super helpful. There were a lot of things that sort of surprised me. Like, in the emails between John and Jim, how often John just doesn’t respond to Jim. I found that really fascinating. There are instances in which John does not want to honor Jim’s questions, and that’s a lot of what goes on in the play in some regard.
Q • What’s the balance between comedy and drama in the play?
A • There are definitely comedic moments in it, but I think it deals with things that are a bit more serious. It certainly deals with the creation of art in a world in which any fact can be disputed, or looked up online — and how we move forward in an artistic world in that environment.
Q • Do you prefer drama as opposed to comedy?
A • Typically, my preference is just to do things that are more topical, whether they’re comedies or dramas. I did “Angels in America” (at Actors Theatre of Louisville), which I find to be timely, and “Straight White Men” at Steppenwolf Theatre (in Chicago), which is a serious piece that also deals with very relevant political information.
Q • You moved back to St. Louis from Los Angeles in 2018. How did you become interested in acting?
A • I was an economics major in college (at the University of Wyoming in Laramie), and I was looking for a second major. I decided to take an acting class, and I got bit by the bug. I started to tell stories. And that’s what I consider the most important thing about being human: the ability to have an imagination and tell stories.
What “The Lifespan of a Fact” • When Friday through Nov. 10; performance times vary • Where Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves • How much $20-$94.50 • More info repstl.org