New in 2018 Based on a true story, Daniel Radcliffe stars in a new play about a magazine fact checker assigned to a groundbreaking piece about a Las Vegas teenager who committed suicide, and finds most of the story to be fabricated.
From the producers: Jim Fingal has a small job: to fact check articles for one of the best magazines in the country. Jim Fingal’s boss has given him a big assignment: apply his skill to a groundbreaking piece by legendary author John D’Agata. And now, Jim Fingal has a huge problem: John made up some of his article. Well, a lot of his article. OK, actually, maybe the majority of it? What starts professional quickly becomes profane as one question rises to the surface: Can Jim Fingal ever just shut the fact up?
“The Lifespan of a Fact” follows the controversy surrounding a John D’Agata’s essay about the suicide of a Las Vegas teen. Originally submitted to Harper’s, which pulled it from publication over fact-checking issues, D’Agata and his fact-checker Jim Fingal re-submitted the piece to The Believer magazine. The pair then co-wrote a 2012 book “The Lifespan of a Fact” about their debate over whether facts can be invented or changed in an essay.
Three-time Drama Desk nominee Daniel Radcliffe ("Equus," "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying," "The Cripple of Inishmaan") plays fact-checker Fingal. Cherry Jones, a two-time Tony winner for her work in "The Heiress" and "Doubt" plays Fingal’s boss and Tony nominee Bobby Cannavale ("Mauritius," "The Motherfu**er with the Hat") plays author D’Agata. Tony Award nominee Leigh Silverman ("Violet," "Soft Power") directs.
"The Lifespan of a Fact" is a fun debate play and commercial catnip for the brain. It won't be a Pulitzer contender nor around forever, but it's smart and very lively. Directed with an eye for comedy by Silverman... it offers up some mild commentary on our fact-challenged moment without devolving into antagonistic insults; it notes complexities that both warring political sides could do to hear. Sure, this is a play about an essay in a magazine, but it's also a show about the sorry state of journalism, and maybe of a nation.
"Lifespan" does offer an intriguing story, and three fine actors to play it. But the outcome never feels quite as consequential as it should, possibly because it isn't actually that ambiguous. There is some sharp repartee, though, and few fun in-jokes. The ending comes on with surprising emotional resonance too, though the impact of its final moments mostly serves to remind theatergoers that the rest of "Lifespan" could have used another, altruistic kind of fiction: more plot - and true emotional detail - than its bare facts can provide.