The Lifespan of a Fact is a play about three people. It is based on a true story about a writer and a person who committed suicide by jumping off a building in Las Vegas. The show, however, is much more than that, much more. With three really strong actors on one stage and strong direction, this evening was a hit on all points. Emily (Cherry Jones) brings in Jim (Daniel Radcliffe) to fact check John D’ Agata (Bobby Cannavale). John has been known to embellish on his past stories and Emily wants to keep him and the essay in line. The entire timeline of the play is on a Wednesday to Monday morning, when the deadline for the essay is due. Jim, just out of Harvard, does not see the difficulty of getting this done. In the opening scene, Jones and Radcliffe exchange some wonderful bantering which is both highly comical and somewhat enlightening as to how the publishing business works. Emily tries to warn Jim that John can be very difficult, especially when it comes to his writing as he is very protective of it.
By Thursday, Jim needs help after he spent most of the first scene telling Emily not to worry, that he is her man for the job. Emily gives Jim John’s email and phone number. The emailing goes up on a big screen for the audience to see. This scene was one of the more funny scenes all evening. John is a hard boiled writer and has little time for a pain of a young fact checker. John is indignant that Jim would question his lies, fabrications, and tall tales in the essay. To John, it is about the rhyme, the rhythm of the essay. Truth has nothing to do with great writing nor a great story. Jim, a younger writer, is appalled at this kind of philosophy. To Jim, truth is everything and the facts are never to be changed.
Friday has Jim digging into John about what possible falsities John has told in this essay. John begins to complain to Emily about this kid who knows nothing. Emily, who is non commital to either Jim or John, tells him to work with Jim if he wants his essay published. John continues to dodge and duck Jim’s hard questions about the truth that is not in the essay piece. John tries to give this youngster a lesson about life and writing. He explains that for a story to be great it needs certain things, that the flow of the piece is everything and not much else matters, not the truth or the subject matter.
On Saturday we see John’s apartment. Mimi Lien’s scenic design is a wonderful rendition of John’s home, which Jim now occupies with him. Jim to get more to the facts has travelled halfway across the country to John’s home. Jim kills John with maps, notes, and probability math. John, an old school writer, does not know how to deal with this. When Emily senses that everything is going awry, she flies out as well. To complete this essay, Emily is going to half to be both referee and publisher. The comedy flows the entire evening but Saturday into Sunday is where humor is abound with no limits on it.
Jennifer Schriever’s lighting is as upbeat as the show itself. In the first act, as well as the second, the stage is very short and compact. Schriever’s lighting keeps us in tight with the actors. Although a cozy stage is small, the lights need to keep a bold atmosphere as to let the actors fulfill what the director wants them to accomplish.
Linda Cho’s costumes are on the money. Jones as an executive has a sharp blazer and slacks for the opening. Radcliffe has his Harvard khakis, Ivy League sweater, and mod shoes on. Cannavale, the writer varies from casual slacks to what look like thin sweatpants. Cho shows us clearly the different generations of the three. She captures the fashion of the three generations perfectly. The audience can identify all three by not only age but by the clothes they wear.
Director Leigh Silverman who has recently directed Harry Clarke at the Vineyard, gives us a wind sprint of laughs and movement. She keeps the characters moving throughout, either subtly or full force. She has Radcliffe getting under John’s skin with little effort. John in his rage is more slapstick or rough in his comedic lines. Emily is funny with such little effort, it is almost dry humor. The three work and work well and it is all because Silverman lets them out and reels them in to have the actors in a three card monty as to who will get the upper hand.
Lifespan is just a fun play, 90 minutes of energy that never lets the audience’s attention wander. It is an action packed play of jokes, learning about the publishing industry, and about Levi Pressley, who was the person who committed suicide. Jones, Radcliffe, and Cannavale do a magnificent job in their roles. The real bottom line to this story is that the writers give us three people over three generations and they show us how time has changed. They get it done: Emily, the writer who writes, and the new breed that wants only the truth. He wants only the facts.