Colonial Players’ production of The Lifespan of a Fact is a funny yet thoughtful drama about the importance of truth. Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, the play concerns the intense (and tense) relationship between a prestigious magazine writer, his editor, and the fact-checker assigned to his essay about a prominent suicide in Las Vegas. Directed by Estelle Miller, it asks important philosophical and ethical questions about truth and literature.
Matthew Rigby gives a youthful zealousness to Jim, the fact-checker. In the interview with Emily (Mary C. Rogers), the editor-in-chief, he is charmingly awkward, writing down key words from her passionate speech on the importance of stories. Diving deep into the essay, he confronts her and its author, John (Timothy Sayles), with inconsistencies and errors, presenting a hand-drawn map of a supposed “traffic jam.” Jim passionately defends the accuracy of facts that can be backed up over “poetic license,” sometimes with great arrogance. He also displays his middle-class background, asking John if he has “expresso” or “IPA.”
Timothy Sayles brings a literary bent to John, the writer. Replying to Jim’s email about his “article,” he says, “I don’t write articles, I write essays.” He defends his “facts” for their rhythms and sound qualities and how they resonate with themes in the essay, arguing against literal accuracy. He resists any attempt to change it, calling Jim “a cancer.” Showing his working-class roots, he offers Jim Maxwell House coffee and says, “You’re not supposed to like it. You get it because it’s cheap.”
Mary C. Rogers gives Emily, the editor, a no-nonsense, businesslike air. She commands her office, even as pinging emails, texts, and calls interrupt her discussion with Jim. Breaking up a fight between Jim and John, she glares at John and sends him out of his own home. She turns on Jim when he steps too far into her personal life, calling him “nothing.” She captures the dilemma between John’s beautiful language (which she, Rigby, and Sayles take turns reading) and the insistence on literal truth, the conflict between poetry and business or legality.
Set Designer Edd Miller has created a clever set, taking advantage of the theater in the round. A short, maze-like wall creates distinct “spaces” for each scene, each facing a different side: Emily’s office, with a desk, chairs, office phone, and notes; John’s home, with a rug, table, small couch and chair, and kitchen table; a third space for Jim’s desktop (on a rolling desk) and Emily’s home, with a rolling chair. Costume Designer Abigail Traverson’s outfits help point out the characters’ differences, with Jim in a (quickly rumpled) suit and tie, later changing to khakis and a nice shirt, while John begins in a bathrobe and changes into shorts and a colorful shirt. Emily wears skirts and nice tops.
On a screen on either side of the stage, Projections Designer Richard Atha-Nicholls throws up the day for each scene as well as email exchanges. Sound Designer Sarah Wade has voice-overs of each email’s text, as well as the first paragraph of John’s essay, and the sounds of incoming emails and texts; this especially captures the distractions and divided attention of Emily’s office. Lighting Designer Eric Gasior turns the light out between each scene and keeps parts of the stage dark until just the right moment.
Estelle Miller does a great job as director. The actors keep the stakes and tension rising until they become almost visible. They are strong both talking to each other from separate spaces on the stage and together in the same spot. There are moments of great comic timing and quiet connection, helping to emphasize the philosophical and ethical debates. The play gives audiences laughs and plenty to think about afterward. Be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
The Lifespan of a Fact plays through November 12, 2022, at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street, Annapolis, MD. Performances are also available for online live streaming. For tickets ($23 for adults; $18 for 65+, full-time students, and active military), call the box office at 410-268-7373 or purchase online. Production postcard is available here.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional, though strongly encouraged. Masks will be required for the November 6 and November 11 performances.