Can strict adherence to reality get in the way of telling a good story? That’s the question raised in “The Lifespan of a Fact,” the smart and engagingly playful comedy-drama running through Nov. 10 in a spellbinding Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production.
Advocating for the truth is Jim Fingal (Griffin Osborne), a magazine fact-checker assigned to look over an essay by noted author John D’Agata (Brian Slaten), who doesn’t necessarily stick to the facts.
Not that D’Agata would see it that way. His goal is to captivate the reader — and if that means altering a detail to improve the rhythm of a sentence, he’s fine with it.
Situated somewhere between the two men philosophically is editor Emily Penrose (Perri Gaffney), whose hopes that the fact-checking will be finished by deadline are dwindling by the second.
Based on a book by D’Agata and Fingal, written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell and directed by Meredith McDonough, “The Lifespan of a Fact” addresses a timely subject with a comic intensity reminiscent of Hollywood’s screwball comedies of the 1930s and ’40s.
McDonough keeps things moving with pinpoint precision, and she elicits fine performances from a cast that’s as sensitive to rhythms as the haughty D’Agata is. Slaten and Osborne play off each other perfectly. And as the fictional Emily, Gaffney is exasperation personified.
The production also benefits mightily from Arnel Sancianco’s spot-on scenic design, which injects a moment of unexpected drama that’s too good to spoil.
Unquestionably, the play taps into current anxieties about “alternative facts” and presumably “fake news.” Information has never been more accessible — or as prone to unreliability. And folks have never been more tempted to seek out sources that merely confirm their worldviews.
Decades hence, “The Lifespan of a Fact” may not seem as urgent or relevant. But right now, it’s a bulletin from the zeitgeist.
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