The Lifespan of a Fact: Creative License Versus Cold Hard Facts

Jack Gereski in The Lifespan of a Fact
Jack Gereski in The Lifespan of a Fact Photo by Jeff McMorrough
The setting is a New York City magazine that is not doing well at all. A possible saving grace arrives in the form of a story by John D'Agata, a well-known essayist who has delivered an eloquent story about a teenage boy's suicide.

Enter the fact-checker. Jim Fingal is a recent college grad from Harvard and it's when he's assigned to doublecheck the facts as stated in D'Agata's story that conflict ensues. The dispute becomes one of facts versus truth, as in how much creative license is justified to get across a more compelling story that people will read and that gets to the true heart of the matter — if not always being absolutely correct in the details.

The Lifespan of a Fact by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrrell and Gordon Farrell is based on a true story, a book by the real John D'Agata and Jim Fingal. The 4th Wall Theatre Co. production stars Pamela Vogel as the editor, Nick Farco as D'Agata and Jack Gereski as Fingal. It is directed by Kim Tobin-Lehl.

Tobin-Lehl saw it on Broadway and thought it a smart play with an intelligent argument that at the same time was funny. The fast-paced play runs about 95 minutes with no intermission and she thought it perfect for the intimate Studio 101 where 4th Wall presents its productions.

"It's about writers who write essay pieces about things that happen in the public domain and take creative liberties to enhance the story to something more personal imbued with more humanity. They color the pieces with creative flair so they're more personal as opposed to hard-fact journalism. That's what this piece debates about."

The magazine in question is modeled on Harper's or The Atlantic and its editor sees this essay as a prestigious legacy piece, Tobin-Lehl says. "It's a story about a young man who commits suicide in Las Vegas. It's about life and death and how Las Vegas is representative of the heightened feeling of life and all this glitter and glam and also this most horrible depression and death."

The editor loves the story and hires a fact-checker. "What she doesn't realize is that she's hired an overachiever fact checker," Tobin-Lehl says. The arguments that follow are at the most nitpicky level, she says culminating in 132 pages of notes from the fact-checker on an essay that is only 15 pages long..

"Her [the editor's] job is to balance what makes good writing and the things you can't lie about," Tobin-Lehl says.

Performances are scheduled for January 14 through February 5 (preview night January 13) at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street, Studio 101.  Proof of negative COVID test within 72 hours or full vaccination card required. Mask required throughout the performance. For more information, call 832-767-4991 or visit $17-$53.  7:30 p.m. Monday January 31 Pay What You Can.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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