THE LIFETIME OF A FACT at Jarrott Productions Asks Big Questions About the Nature of Truth
What is a fact? What does it mean to know something and how much do we owe the truth? These are the questions asked in The lifetime of a fact, Jeremy Kareken, David Murrelland Gordon Farrellis an insightful and passionate piece about a fact checker who descends down the rabbit hole while trying to verify a story about a young man’s suicide before it goes to print. Based on a true story by Jean d’Agata and Jim Fingal, this piece boldly explores themes of objectivity, storytelling and truth as it attempts to discern the difference between emotional truth and factual truth.
The story begins with a character version of Fingal himself being brought in to verify an article by famed essayist John D’Agata about the recent suicide of a teenager named Levi Presley. However, Jim and John immediately begin butting heads as their conflicting notions of the truth put them at odds.
This production from Jarrott Productions is devoid of ruffles or frills. At times the show is almost painfully brutal, and I don’t mean that’s an insult. Director David R. Jarrott emphasizes the right thing: the relentless and sometimes grueling search for honesty and authenticity in a post-truth world.
This focus can be seen in the way Jarrott directed his actors. A lot of the opening scenes aren’t very exciting. There’s an email, a job interview, and some clarification on the number of strip clubs in Las Vegas. The only whiff of conflict is that John refuses to answer some of Jim’s questions. It’s unclear exactly what is supposed to drive this story. It’s intentional.
As the plot unfolds, we begin to learn more about how these characters view the world. Jim believes in the sanctity of facts – which can be practically verified. He thinks the only way to maintain a sense of honesty in the age of Reddit and Q-Anon is to trust hard facts and make sure everything you say is verifiable. John’s philosophy is more ambiguous; he believes that emotional truth – the visceral feelings that shake the body during moments of tragedy – are more important than trivial details. Emily, their writer and, at times, mediator, believes in the power of stories to not only change but to shape the world we live in. More often than not, she finds herself playing the middleman between the two passionate but inflexible men with whom she is forced to collaborate.
However, the real difficulty that arises is not only a question of philosophy. It’s a matter of humanity and morality, as Jim and John believe they’re the only ones defending young Levi. Jim finds it cruel to manipulate the facts of Levi’s life and death for the sake of artistic impact. John feels that anything less than artistic license will be too processed and cold to truly honor the horror of teenage suicide.
They both present their points well, and in the end, it’s hard to see who wins. The play ends in a moment of unresolved tension, as the two men turn to Emily, pleading, as she takes a call from the printer to decide whether or not the play will air. We have to wonder what Emily is going to do and, more importantly, what she should do.
Will Gibson Douglas and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia are both excellent in their roles, bringing this tension to life with empathy and flair. Douglas’ twitches and squirms convey Jim’s clumsiness, and they blend well with his later scenes to demonstrate just how important the problem at hand is to Jim. Garcia, on the other hand, showcases John’s pretentiousness while adding his deep sense of empathy for Levi. Sparks fly when the two begin to verbally argue over which approach to truth makes the most sense and, more importantly, which honors Levi the most.
Like Emily, Janelle Buchanan is pragmatic and controlled counterpoint. His performance borders on stiff at times, but it fires a bit of fire when Jim mistakenly guesses that his commitment to the play must be tied to a traumatic backstory.
The design work is generally straightforward, supporting the no-frills approach Jarrott took with the story. The most striking element, however, is Lowell Barthélemywhich offers fleeting moments of augmented reality to emphasize the theme of truth in the virtual world.
Apart from these intense moments, however, the play relies mainly on its conflict of ideas. What do we owe to those we wish to honor? What does compassion and sensitivity look like? Is it honoring the indisputable facts of their existence, or is it impossible for a fact to be truly indisputable? Do we trust our senses and emotions or do we only trust the things we can see and measure? Can two truths really exist at the same time, or must one necessarily eclipse the other? The answer is not simple, and perhaps it does not exist, but, as with any great theatrical work, the importance is not in the answer but in the question itself.
Lifetime of a Fact airs for a limited time on June 4-5. Tickets can be purchased for $15 per household at https://www.broadwayondemand.com/series/Coy32ZZtk74L-jarrott-productions–the-lifespan-of-a-fact. This production contains discussions of suicide.