Theater Review: “The Lifespan of a Fact”, Starring Daniel Radcliffe
What is truth?: Is it our perception, the emotional truth we discover, or the verifiable facts?
This is the question at the heart of The Lifespan of a Fact, which stars Daniel Radcliffe and is now in previews on Broadway in New York City. At times hilarious, at times moving, and at times introspective, this is not a show that should be missed.
When magazine editor Emily Penrose reads a new essay by prolific writer John D’Agata on the death by suicide of a teenage boy in Las Vegas, she believes it is the piece that will create her legacy. To make this the best it can be, Emily enlists the help of intern Jim Fingal to fact-check the piece. But both Emily and John are shocked when Jim dives deeper into the facts than they ever expected, providing evidence that would tear the article’s accuracy to pieces. John, however, refuses to change his piece since he feels that negotiating a few small facts adds to the patterns and therefore the literary merit and declaration of truth of the essay. It’s a grappling of finding meaning and understanding versus seeing the facts as they happened.
Daniel Radcliffe plays eager, upstart intern Jim, and he plays it with a sincerity and humor we saw the beginnings of in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. His dedication to the facts exactly as they happened and his knowledge of Internet culture and expectations make him a character you root for, even as he punctuates every sentence with facts, questions, and corrections. Jim could be a very annoying character, but Dan makes him endearing, eager, and enthusiastic. His contrast with the more cynical John provides a stark dichotomy that sets up the ambiguous ending, one that has viewers thinking long after the final bows. There’s a great joke about a closet under a set of stairs that seems included as a sly wink to Potter fans, and Dan plays it with great humor.
Cherry Jones molds the character of Emily from a no-nonsense magazine boss to a stand-in for the audience, caught between the ideals of both Jim and John and her own desires for success. Bobby Cannavale, who plays John, meanwhile, begins as a curmudgeon author, but his passion and insistence that feeling and meaning can be just as truthful as cold, hard facts make him sympathetic and believable. The passion Cannavale brings to some of the monologues the character delivers drives his arc to a heart-wrenching climax that illustrates and compels the viewer to want to agree with his view.
Set and sound design, by Mimi Lien and Palmer Hefferan, respectively, bring a minimalist but intimate view to the stage. With a simple office set that much of the beginning of the play takes place in, and then a home set for the rest, the sets both invite the viewer into the private world of each character and provide a simple backdrop for the words to take the focus. The small details of the sound are so realistic that I wasn’t sure for a moment if the sirens in the background were coming from the New York street outside or if they were a part of the show! The integration of technology, for both the characters and as a device to tell the story to the audience, is seamless, natural, and not overwhelming, a refreshing distinction from many other plays.
The play is relevant to our current times and recent events, so much so that audience members around me commented on these events and were surely thinking of them throughout the show. The questions posed throughout the show are ones we grapple with on a daily basis, and yet here they are presented in a way that neither supports either side nor indeed, answers the questions at all. But it does cause reflection and introspection on how we respond to facts and events, making us pause and ask what the truth really is.
This is a show you do not want to pass on. Get tickets and more information here. The show is only playing for 16 weeks and previews were packed with very few tickets left, so don’t delay!