Saturday, October 6, 2018

Lifespan of a Fact


The Broadway season just got a lot brighter with the arrival of this star-studded comedy at Studio 54. With three stars — Daniel Radcliffe (Equus, The Cripple of Inishmaan), Cherry Jones (The Glass Menagerie, The Heiress) and Bobby Cannavale (The Hairy Ape, The Motherf**ker with the Hat) — any of whom alone would be reason enough to see the play, and a plot that is both funny and intelligent, it is cause for celebration. Based on a book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal which was in turn based on an essay written by D’Agata and fact-checked by Fingal, it explores the difference between facts and artistic truth and the distinction between essayist and journalist. That may not sound like promising material for a comedy, but the playwrights — Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell — (why it took three writers, I cannot imagine) have embellished the story in very entertaining ways. They have added the character of Emily (Jones), the magazine editor, to negotiate the chasm between John (Cannavale) and Jim (Radcliffe) and ginned up the pressure by condensing a 5-year battle to 5 days. All three roles are juicy and the actors play them to the hilt. In addition to the laughs, there is plenty of food for thought — the importance of getting things right in the age of fake news and relentless social media, the forces threatening print media, and differing concepts of accuracy and truth. There is some loss of energy during the last quarter-hour that stands out because the play is so energetic until that point. Additionally, we don’t learn very much about the characters, particularly about Emily. A few narrative threads get dropped. None of these flaws seriously diminished my enjoyment. A notable fact about this production is that it is the first on Broadway with an all-female design team —Mimi Lien (set; Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812), Linda Cho (costumes; Anastasia), Jen Schriever (lighting; Eclipsed), Palmer Heffernan (original music and sound design; Collective Rage) and Lucy Mackinnon (projections; After the Blast). The sleek opening set morphs into something quite different. The costumes were appropriate to the characters. Leigh Silverman’s (Violet, Chinglish) direction is unfussy. It was a very enjoyable 90 minutes.

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