Theater Review: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT (Desert Ensemble Theatre at the Palm Springs Cultural Center)

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by Jason Mannino on January 30, 2024

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


This past weekend Desert Ensemble Theater kicked off 2024 with The Lifespan of a Fact, a poignant and funny play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Jordan Farrell. Based on a book by Jim Fingal and John D’Agata, who detailed their personal experience preparing a magazine essay for publication in 2003, the play’s 2018 Broadway adaptation with Cherry Jones and Daniel Radcliffe was a hit.

Jim Fingal is a fresh-out-of-Harvard fact-checker for a prominent but sinking New York magazine. John D’Agata is a talented writer with a transcendent essay about the suicide of a teenage boy — an essay that could save the magazine from collapse. When Jim is hired by the magazine’s editor Emily Penrose to fact check D’Agata’s essay, the two men come head-to-head in a comedic yet gripping battle over facts versus truth.

John Corr, Christine Tringali Nunes, Chuck Yates

In an ongoing era of disinformation and in an election year with the leader of “alternative facts” back on the Republican Presidential Primary ballot, Lifespan of a Fact asks urgent questions such as: How do we determine what information is trustworthy or accurate? How does the truth — whatever that may be — impact our understanding of the world? How much are we willing to distort the truth in service to our own narrative agenda?

In his directorial debut with Desert Ensemble, David Youse molds this trio into a cohesive ensemble, delivering a fast-paced piece that captivates as tension steadily mounts. The power of the play lies in its refusal to provide definitive answers to the questions posed, allowing the audience to grapple with them long after leaving the theater.

John Corr, Chuck Yates

Chuck Yates is wonderful as the seasoned, cynical essayist D’Agata. While his willingness to distort facts is shocking, we can’t help but wonder what events from the past engender his bitterness. Christine Tringali Nunes is Emily Penrose, a dynamic, compelling and visceral woman driven by her passion for great journalism who sees a potential legacy piece in D’agata’s essay. Penrose becomes one to be reckoned as she referees Fingal and D’Agata, and Nunes is aggressive. The Saturday afternoon I attended, Nunes had moments throughout where she fumbled for words. While that had some impact on pacing her fierceness remained unwavering.

If John Corr is anything he is consistent as he adeptly and authentically embodies Fingal. As a budding journalist with keen intellect we empathize with Fingal. When he engages D’Agata in a battle of wits we root for him and must wonder if it’s a battle he can win. While Fingal toes the line between eager-to-please and steadfast in his principles, Corr brings gravitas  to the role as we discover Fingal is not as naïve as he initially seems and is rather fearless in his effort to defend the truth.

Christine Tringali Nunes, John Corr

Thomas Valach‘s minimal and somewhat modular set design proves to be highly effective on the compact stage. The metal scaffolding not only invokes some expansiveness but also is reminiscent of a building or roof, perhaps like the Stratosphere, the one from which the young man in D’Agata’s essay jumped. Valach’s thoughtful use of the projection screen adds another layer of storytelling, contributing significantly to the overall impact of the production.

Living in a world saturated with disinformation and the rapid dissemination of alternative facts, the concerns raised in this play seem destined to remain relevant indefinitely. However, at its core, the play is about the success and purpose of storytelling. Human beings have engaged in storytelling for as long as we have had means of expression, even if that expression was once cave drawings. Emily succinctly conveys this sentiment to Jim, asserting, “Nothing is more important than story… It’s how we organize our lives in a way that gives our lives meaning.”

photos by Nathan Cox

The Lifespan of a Fact
Desert Ensemble Theatre
Camelot Theater in the Palm Springs Cultural Center
2300 East Baristo Road in Palm Springs
Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 7:30; Sun at 2
end on February 4, 2024
for tickets ($37.50 plus online service fee), call 760.565.2476 or visit Desert Ensemble

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