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Facts Can Be Complicated

Mon, 03/13/2023 - 14:42
Jamie Baio and Matt Conlon in rehearsal for "The Lifespan of a Fact" in Quogue.
Dane DuPuis

In a world awash with fake news, the 2022-2023 season of the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue will resume Thursday evening with "The Lifespan of a Fact," a three-character play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell about the collision between poetic license and print journalism's presumed commitment to facts.

The play, which premiered at Studio 54 in Manhattan in 2018, is an adaptation of a book of the same title published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2012. That book, written by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, has a complicated provenance.

Mr. D'Agata's 2003 essay "What Happens There" examined the culture of suicide in Las Vegas following the 2002 suicide of a 16-year-old boy. The article included stories from the author's personal research, including his experience working for the city's suicide hotline. Commissioned by Harper's magazine, the article was rejected because of disagreements related to fact-checking.

It took seven years for that article to be published in The Believer, a magazine of interviews, essays, and reviews that was founded by writers. An edited version of that article was fact-checked by Mr. Fingal. 

The seven years prior to publication were marked by arguments, negotiations, and revisions as both Mr. D'Agata and Mr. Fingal struggled with issues peculiar to literary nonfiction. The final compilation of essay and comments published by W.W. Norton was edited by Jill Bialosky, a writer and editor who has a house in Bridgehampton.

The play tells the story of how Mr. Fingal, an idealistic intern just out of Harvard, is tasked with fact-checking a piece by a well-known author -- with a strict deadline.

Excited at first, Mr. Fingal soon discovers an alarming pattern of unsubstantiated claims and creative liberties taken by the author throughout the 15-page essay. The play climaxes with an 11th-hour faceoff involving the author, the editor, and the fact-checker, none of whom is willing to compromise.

The play premiered with Daniel Radcliffe as Mr. Fingal, Bobby Cannavale as Mr. D'Agata, and Cherry Jones as Emily Penrose, the editor who hopes the essay can save the magazine at a time of crisis. 

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter, while acknowledging that the source material might seem unlikely for the stage, praised "the spry humor, rippling tension and provocative reflections of this ingenious adaptation," which focuses on the initial phase of the path to publication.

Adam Feldman of Time Out said the play "makes a good case for the value of truth -- even as, in telling its own story, it takes generous advantage of dramatic license," while Variety's Marilyn Stasio praised the "terrifically funny dialogue . . . the debate at the heart of this play transcends comedy and demands serious attention."

The Hampton Theatre Company production stars Jamie Baio as Mr. Fingal, Matt Conlon as Mr. D'Agata, and Laurie Atlas as Ms. Penrose. George Loizides is the director, Andrew Botsford the producer. Set design is by Mr. Loizides, with lighting design by Sebastian Paczynski, sound by Seamus Naughton, and costumes by Teresa Lebrun.

Performances will take place through April 2 on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 2:30, with an additional matinee set for April 1. A conversation with the cast will happen after the performance on Friday, March 24.

Tickets cost $36, $31 for senior citizens, $20 for students 25 and under.

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