Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Lifespan of a Fact (Broadway)


When John D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale) turns in an essay reflecting on the suicide culture in Las Vegas, the Editor (Cherry Jones) of the publication realizes that she is reading what will be her legacy piece before she retires. Not only does the article grasp the emotional depth of the story, but it also captures the zeitgeist. Anxious to publish it in lieu of their backup Congressional Spouses feature, she sets the last steps in the process in motion and assigns the task of fact-checking the story to Jim Fingal (Daniel Radcliffe), a fresh Harvard graduate eager to impress. When the fact-checker goes over-the-top, the writer becomes protective of his work and a clash of ideology ensues, a dispute that the Editor herself must now referee. Along the way they will find out that there is more to journalism than just balancing form and substance.

I was supposed to watch Pretty Woman, but this appeared on TodayTix out of the blue before I could book something. I must admit that it got me curious. Cannavale was last seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Radcliffe is Radcliffe. And so, I thought, maybe it’s time to check if Harry Potter can really act. Besides, it’s not every day that I get to see Hollywood celebrities on Broadway. And so, I booked the ticket and prepared for disappointment. It’s a narrative about fact-checking for crying out loud. Well, surprise!

The material revolves around a fact-checker fact-checking an essay. What the fact, how boring could that be, right? Well, whoever produced this onstage rendition knew what they were doing. You are introduced to a minimalist set with bright blue panels that are both catchy and handy for displaying text. Wooden moving boards on the floor serve as the base for the Editor’s office, Fingal’s desk, and D’Agata’s couch. The set expands later on to show an entire first floor of a Las Vegas house.

Production design aside, The Lifespan of a Fact heavily relies on the performance of its actors to entertain a theater full of people. Radcliffe sports his usual rugged look post-Harry Potter and throws his lines with a legit American accent. Cannavale captures D’Agata’s smug demeanor without compromising his idealistic views, while Jones highlights the Editor’s maternal side as well as her role as negotiator between the two opposing parties. The banter among the three does not come across as rehearsed, and such rapport helps a lot in establishing their respective roles in the plot.

As for the theme, it can’t be any timelier and more relevant. In this day and age when fake news and alternative facts reign supreme, do people really still care about the veracity of what they read at all? What makes The Lifespan of a Fact so interesting is how it gives you a glimpse of the traditional providers of information and the role that they now play in a world where access to data has been so liberalized that it cannot be monopolized anymore, along with all the good and bad aspects that come along with such development. Do facts matter or is empathy and connecting with an audience more valuable?

Musicals have the luxury of music and choreography. That’s why it’s harder to elicit an impassioned reaction from an audience when the theater piece in question is a straight play. The Lifespan of a Fact has several moments in which the audience just erupts in applause. At this point we don’t know whether it’s just because the actors are famous. Regardless, there must be something with their delivery to merit such response. Whatever it is, this play gets it right and debunks any speculation that it’s going to be a boring piece.

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