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Review: A Three-Way Smackdown on the "Life of a Fact"

When journalist John D & Agatta wrote a play titled "The Lifetime of a Fact" in 2003, he did not know that one day it would become an incredibly intoxicating Broadway drama with a young wizard.

Please note that there are six to eight errors in this sentence, whichever you think is a mistake.

First, "D & # 39; Agata" has only a "T". The show, which opened Thursday at Studio 54, starring Daniel Radcliffe, is, with Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones, not a drama, but a recent comedy, and it's called "The Lifespan of a Fact" ̵

1; not the "Lifetime" ,

Also, the piece was not written in 2003, or by Mr. D & # 39; Agata; Rather, it has been written recently by a threesome whose official loan I would rather leave out, because, well, I just think it's clumsy: Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.

If you think this is my lord, wait until you get a hint of the mature caricature of Mr. D & Agata, especially because he is inhabited by Mr. Cannavale. "I'm not interested in accuracy," he crowed. "I'm interested in the truth." For that reason, he does not consider himself a journalist (that's mistake # 6), but rather a lyrical essayist for whom the atmosphere takes precedence over facts and rhythm over reliability.

So that means he can just do things or falsify details as I did

"The Life of a Fact" is based on the eponymous book Mr. D & # 39; Agata wrote in 2012 with Jim Fingal Again, this book was based on an argument that began when Mr. Fingal was hired as a junior trainee to review an article – sorry, essay – that Mr. D & Agata had written about the suicide of a teenager at a resort in Las Vegas In 2002.

As Mr. Radcliffe, who has now left the boy magician behind, delights, the character of Fingal D'Agata's mental and physical opposite is grubby, small, embarrassing and persistent. He is a mosquito for the lion of Mr. Cannavale. He is hired by the editor of a top-class New York magazine to review the 15-page essay. He creates a 130-page spreadsheet with his questions.

Some talk about tangible details: are the paving stones of the resort red or less interesting, brown? Some are epistemological: how could D & # 39; agata have known what he could not have testified? And some speculate that the author has penetrated deep into the field of flat-out fiction.

No more than now, with allegations of fake news, these questions have appealed to writers – whether journalists or essayists or critics. Mistakes and lies and opinions are interchangeable with facts in Twitter verse, creating a nimbus of doubt (and possibilities for "artistic" beautification) around everything.

This obviously also affects playwrights. The New York Highlighter, who is to publish D & Agatas' essay in "The Lifetime of a Fact," is not the place where the real Mr. Fingal was interned. He worked for a magazine called The Believer – then based in San Francisco – to which the essay was submitted after Harper's magazine had rejected him because of factual inaccuracies. Suppose you believe in the accounts of The New York Times and The Daily Beast.

And the verification process of the Believer, which actually lasted for seven years, is compressed in the game into a five-day ordeal with a looming deadline in the printer. What does not matter, except that it seems ridiculous to anyone who publishes the idea of ​​stuffing so many gaping factual holes in such a short time.

We can at least be grateful for one of the writers' freedoms: the invention of Emily Penrose, the fair but persistent editor of the journal. Without them, "The Lifespan of a Fact" would only be two pages of an invariable argument, repeated with variations ad infinitum.

Actually, that's it at all, but Penrose, who serves as the linchpin of the argument, has nuance and real meaning. She sees the publication in the context of a worsening knowledge ecosystem with enormous political and societal implications.

The role also gives Ms. Jones the rare chance to shine in lighter material than her usual Broadway assignments. She makes her way with slick, cursed dialogues and suggests a mix of Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson, the sparring editor and reporter of The Front Page.

She is also, like these archetypal male characters, a totally professional creature making this a rare game in which the female tip of the triangle is not a romantic figure. I give "The Lifspan of a Fact" big Bechdel points for it but also some engagement disadvantages. Forcaling on every try Fingal makes details of her personal life, she also excludes us.

When dry, dryness is in some ways a fascinating choice. There used to be a genre of Broadway comedy that was up-to-date, but not emotional. Pieces like "Take her, she's mine," "Fair Game," and " Norman, is that you?" Addressing current social issues – the generation gap, divorce, gay liberation and such – as touchstones for light evening entertainment, and were welcome as such. That's the way it is.

But "The Life of a Fact" clearly wants to be more, even if the raw material is not strong enough for the drama. (On the one hand, the original essay, which eventually has the title "What happens there" and is exaggerated in dialogue, is so purplish that it does not seem worth the effort.) The authors compensate by exposing D & # Agata's alleged artistry Didion-like proportions and Fingals inflate tenacity towards mania.

Although compression and exaggeration are key writing tools – I use them now – they may be more suspicious in one piece about the dangers of compression and exaggeration than in the style of boulevard comedies that resemble "the life of a fact" otherwise

Here they serve to disguise the "fact" that the variously connected authors have never solved the problem of how to bring the conflict to a climax – more than D & Agata and Fingal have ever agreed the truth. After 95 minutes of plausible arguments on each page, the piece ends with a shrug. They are both right! And both wrong.

So I was wrong – or only selectively truthfully – called the "lifetime of a fact", which was "fascinating" in front of just 20 paragraphs? It might have been more precise, though less willing to have written, "unbelievably engaging, but not as smart as it thinks."

That this does not mean much, since the game is accompanied by ping-pongs, is the result of a magnificent comic staging by Leigh Silverman. With his cast, his total timing, his perfect set of Mimi Lien, and the sound design of Palmer Hefferan, it would probably also smile without dialogue. It's a good time.

Of course I can not prove that.

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