The Lifespan of a Fact

By Tom Hauck

August 2019, former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential election, told a campaign rally audience a deeply moving story about how he had pinned a medal on the chest of a Navy captain who had valiantly tried to rescue a wounded comrade who had fallen to the bottom of a deep ravine. The soldier had died, and the Navy captain told Biden he didn’t want the medal. “He died,” the captain insisted. “He died!”

Reporters quickly discovered that most of the facts in Biden’s story were incorrect. The story seemed to be a mishmash of several events—a little from one, a little more from another.

When asked about these divergent facts, Biden replied, “(Details) matter in terms of whether you’re trying to mislead people. And I wasn’t trying to mislead anybody…. The fact is, the point I was trying to make, I’d make again. The valor and honor of these warriors are as significant as any warriors we’ve ever had in the history of the United States of America. That was my point.”

Watching the stunning regional premiere of “The Lifespan of a Fact” at the Gloucester Stage Company, the viewer cannot avoid thinking about the real-life implications of this brilliant new play. Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, and directed by Sam Weisman, this tightly constructed, no-nonsense story quickly takes off when hardboiled magazine editor Emily Penrose (Lindsay Crouse) asks intern fact checker Jim Fingal (Derek Speedy) to do a routine fact check on an essay submitted by star writer John D’agata (Mickey Solis). Trouble arrives when Fingal takes the job seriously and produces a long list of errors. While some of D’agata’s literary inventions are trivial, others appear to have real consequences.

With surprising integrity, the script offers each character the opportunity to sincerely defend their point of view. Like Joe Biden, D’agata insists his job is to convey the essence of the human drama, and individual details should be subservient to that purpose. Fingal is appalled that the writer is stubbornly cavalier about altering the building blocks of the story—the “facts.” Meanwhile, editor Penrose has a looming deadline, and she needs this important piece to be hammered into shape and sent to the printer.

The three actors are superb. Lindsay Crouse needs no introduction to Gloucester audiences, and her laser-focused performance confirms why during her career she’s earned a boatload of honors including an Academy Award nomination. Recent Harvard graduate Derek Speedy proves he’s got the right stuff for a successful career onstage, and Mickey Solis does an amazing job of playing along with the viewer’s initial assumption that he’s nothing but a pompous “artiste,” and then gradually revealing he’s got a good heart and really believes in the power of stories to transform lives.

Playing now through September 22, this poignant and darkly comic drama is both topical and timeless. Reserve your seats by calling 978-281-4433 or visiting https://gloucesterstage.com/.

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