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Home Made Theater’s “The Lifespan of a Fact” discusses fact versus art – Saratogian

The Lifespan of a Fact, produced by Home Made Theater, opens on Friday February 10th. It will be played Friday through Sunday through February 19 at the Saratoga Arts Center. (photo provided)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – It feels uncomfortable to say that “The Lifespan of a Fact” is a true story.

Rather, the piece, which begins tomorrow night and continues Friday through Sunday through February 19, is a 90-minute work that will make you ponder the importance of truth in today’s society.

For example, there is a statement in the play from a character who says, “I’m not interested in accuracy. I’m interested in the truth.” It’s frightening to imagine how many public figures we could attribute this quote to.

It’s actually said by John D’Agata, the writer who profiled a young man who committed suicide in Las Vegas.

When a young fact-checker, Jim Fingal, a recent graduate of Harvard, reviews the article, he finds many factual errors. So many that it took seven years for the article to actually get published due to fights between the fact-checker, the author, and Emily, the magazine’s editor.

The two men then worked on a book called The Lifespan of a Fact, which details the experience. The play is based on the book by Jeremey Kareken, David Morrell and Gordon Farrell. The adapters describe their conflicts in a way that fairly examines both sides of the argument.

This argument is journalistic responsibility versus literary license.

Playing D’Agata is a local actor, writer, journalist, musician, jazz critic and radio host Jay Hunter. As you can imagine, Hunter has strong opinions on the subject. He says simply and firmly, “Truth is non-negotiable.”

As a writer and critic, he understands the value of literary non-fiction. In fact, he speaks of his admiration for Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Pierce, two great contemporary essayists for whom facts are a starting point for creating illuminating stories. He accepts their approach because they are frank about their writing style and the reader is warned that fiction will be mixed with actual fact.

D’Agata claims to be a writer creating a work of art, not a reporter. Hunter believes it is a conceit invented to be immune from journalistic norms.

He points out that D’Agata gets details wrong — like the exact number of strip clubs in Las Vegas is one thing. Hunter realizes this is a human error. But when important facts are altered to make a story more dramatic, “that’s not acceptable. You can’t change the truth for any reason because you think it makes a better story,” he says firmly.

Although Hunter doesn’t appreciate D’Agata’s literary ethics, he loves playing him on stage.

He fell in love with theater while attending Emerson College, and listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” changed his taste in music to jazz. Life forced Hunter to take a break from acting. In fact, it’s been nearly 20 years since he last appeared on stage in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?

He said the script, moral ambiguity, and D’Agata’s dynamic, booming, and domineering personality led him to audition for The Lifespan of a Fact. “It’s a great character and very intelligent work.” He added happily, “I was surprised at how funny it is.”

The actor praised director Laurie Larson’s direction. He credits her for the support that helped him, Keaton Poore, who plays Jim, and Barbara Miner, who is Emily, connect artistically and personally.

He turned to his jazz expertise to form an analogy. “Musically, a trio is the hardest jazz combination there is. You must respect your team’s talents and trust them as friends and colleagues. That’s how I feel on stage with this group.”

Although Hunter did extensive research on the play, he was unable to see the 2018 Broadway production, which starred Bobby Cannavale in his role, David Radcliffe as the dogged fact-checker, and Cherry Jones as Emily.

Those were the days of the “fake news” allegations. Rather than the times changing, he marvels at how the material appears to be pulled from today’s headlines. Does the name George Santos sound familiar to you?

It lets you see the importance of the material, which Hunter describes as “a steel cage match between fact and truth.”

The Lifespan of a Fact, produced by Home Made Theater, opens on Friday February 10th. It will be played Friday through Sunday through February 19 at the Saratoga Arts Center. For tickets and information, visit homemade or call (518) 587-4427.


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