In my early days as a journalist I learned a really important lesson from a veteran bulldog journo: not all writers can be journalists and not all journalists can be writers. Only a special few can be both. Fellow journalists and writers will understand intimately what that means. Put simply, it means that the craft of writing is sometimes beyond a journalist’s abilities and sometimes the methodical nature of journalism is too much for a writer to bear.
That, in a nutshell, is the premise of “The Lifespan of a Fact.”
Based on the true story of a battle between essayist John D’Agata and fact-checker Jim Fingal, “Lifespan” bemoans the realities of journalism that few in the general public understand. When Fingal (a fastidious Alex Benito Rodriguez) starts picking apart a Las Vegas essay by D’Agata (a rascally PJ Powers), the two battle over how factual nonfiction has to be. Caught in the middle, editor Emily Penrose (an unnerving Juliet Hart) has to choose her journalistic integrity or advocate for creative liberties.
Rodriguez and Powers carry such different energies in this show, it’s nerve-racking to watch them butt heads. Together they have an explosive dynamic, one which casting directors should dream of in building this play. Whereas Hart is the milder of the three personalities, all while simmering quietly, not quite boiling over. Essay writing is an art form, to be sure, but so is managing all three of these powerful actors in a short, one-act piece.
At just a tick below ninety minutes, “Lifespan” is an absolute dust bowl. Rambling through TimeLine’s space like a slot machine endlessly cycling through choices—hellbent on making a point. I was so enraptured with this notion of fact vs. fiction that, when the dust finally settled, I wasn’t ready for light to break. Under Mechelle Moe’s direction, the show doesn’t give us a chance to catch our breath before the next round begins.
Although “Lifespan” is a three-hander, one could argue that Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s transformative set is a character in its own right. Bedazzled in the neon of Vegas via projections by Anthony Churchill and Vija Lapp, images blur between the realities of these characters from scene to scene. In a way, these projections remind us that what is subjective truth changes depending on who you hear it from. After all, like Joy says in Pixar’s “Inside Out,” “Oh no, these facts and opinions look so similar!”
TimeLine Theatre Company is familiar with bringing lived experiences to the stage. Whether it’s a fictionalized version of what Hattie McDaniel’s 1939 Oscar experience was like or a retelling of an adolescence spent defending the constitution in VFWs, TimeLine demonstrates the past in myriad ways. Honestly, this show could not be more perfect for this company.
And that, dear reader, is not a fact. Simply a subjective viewpoint.
“The Lifespan of a Fact” at TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 West Wellington, timelinetheatre.com/