Review 1 of 2: The Lifespan of a Fact by Jarrott Productions
by David Glen Robinson
This Austin premiere of The Lifespan of a Fact marks Jarrott Productions' welcome return to live onstage performance after the debilitation of the Covid pandemic. The company has built a reputation for urban contemporary theatre and explores that esthetic further by moving for this show to the mixed industrial, suburbanized east side at Ground Floor Theatre on Springfield Road in Austin.
The work was originally produced on Broadway in 2018, written jointly by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell and based on the 2012 book of the same title by Jim Fingal and John D’Agata.
The Lifespan of a Fact features lengthy discussions of suicide but never forgets its commitment to social responsibility and activism: all its promotional material provides the number of the National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) for any who may need it for themselves or for others. The Ground Floor Theatre's an apt venue, already known as one of the premier facilities in Austin for independent and ground-breaking performances and committed to serving underrepresented communities however defined. Kudos to the theatre’s Lisa Scheps and Patty Neff Tiven for that.
The story comes out of the magazine publishing industry. A magazine editor receives an essay on suicide in Las Vegas written by a noted essayist who lives there. Following standard procedures, she assigns a fact checker to dot all the i's and cross all the t's under a tight deadline. That’s the action. The substance of the play portrays many Las Vegas residents and institutions as the fact checker seeks to clean up the essay. The onstage characters reveal themselves, and professional entanglements heat up to violence and emotional collapse.
Janelle Buchanan as editor Emily Penrose has sharper edges than her corporate office furniture and the broken-glass office wall design. The audience at first perceives her as the embodiment of those sarcastic, cynical, very upscale magazine editors haunting NYC skyscrapers. And she doesn’t disappoint, at first. Will Douglas’s Jim Fingal enters as the gawky, unsure, and unknowing job applicant, the actor employing his lankiness and voice to convey that. Fingal betrays his own defensive nature almost immediately by name-dropping his Harvard background and handing out class put-downs to the battle-hardened editor. Should anyone need further reminding, he wears a crimson Harvard t-shirt throughout. He gets the job as a fact checker.
Carlo Garcia’s John D’Agata seems the hardest of the lot as the Las Vegas-based writer of essays—not articles, and don’t accuse him of anything less. Garcia crafts his chacter extremely well, with hair and styling vaguely like Elvis, along with some of The King’s postures and stances. D’Agata insists to fact checker Fingal that if facts don't serve the truth, they must be rearranged or discarded. The collision of values is the dynamic of the plot and the fuse of the fireworks.
Any stage actor would love this play. The atmosphere, the geometry of the set, and the video-projected backgrounds are no sharper, more angular, or indeed any harsher than the characters themselves. These roles present impressive diversity of life experience and are doubtless drawn from life in the publishing trades. As the action progresses in exquisite slow rhythms, edges soften and barriers melt. Director David R. Jarrott knows to a fare-thee-well the play’s requirements for pacing and and adroitly instills them.
The play’s design fields accomplished the task of building a dialogue-heavy play in three geographically dispersed settings, two on the East Coast and another near Las Vegas. David R. Jarrott and Will Gibson Douglas led the production, while the heavy lifting of production, scenic, and lighting design fell to Isabella Anastasia Leigh and Patrick Anthony, who acquitted themselves ably. Anthony, a noted creative designer, adeptly changed settings with light alone, subtly progressing night to day. Aaron Flynn designed the costumes. Uncredited but important properties design and character styling were probably accomplished by those just mentioned. Craig Brock designed sound and Lowell Bartholomee did video design.
The focus of the story is the distinction between facts and truth. Many recent plays that pose serious philosophical questions fail to answer them or even to narrow the field of discourse. The Lifespan of a Fact gives a very precise answer to the question inherent in the title with a pause, or musical rest, toward the end. The audience is so stunned at that point that we cannot pull out our cell phones to time it. The answer dawns upon us as the characters themselves are realizing it. That decisive incident is the essence of a play that speaks volumes with its silences, taking the mature audience to the edge of a fact and its lifespan but transmitting understanding as though by telepathy.
Only brilliant plays can do this. We learn of the characters' inner selves after the layers have been peeled back so that we can understand the suicide essay at the center of the plot. At play’s end the pathway and course of the essay are ambiguous. We aren’t told a word about them, but we know.
The Lifespan of a Fact must be seen by anyone with a heart and a mind. It runs until March 19th, 2022 at Ground Floor Theatre on the east side.
March 10 - March 19, 2022
979 Springdale Rd
Austin, TX, 78702
March 10 - 19, 2022, Weeknights & Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Preview performance Thursday, March 10; ASL-interpretation on Saturday, March 12; industry night Wednesday, March 16.
Ground Floor Theatre
Tickets $25; preview performance of Thursday, March 10, $15. Purchase tickets HERE.
Please remember. Covid 19 Mitigation procedures are in place.
All patrons will be asked to show their vaccination card (photo on phone is fine) or a negative covid test from the past 72 hours before entering the theatre.
Masks must be worn at all times in the theatre unless ACTIVELY eating or drinking
HEPA Filters in use in the theatre
Hand Sanitizer available
Limited seating to 70% of capacity
PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR PARTY KNOWS THE COVID RULES