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THEATER

The Truth Shall… Something or Other Three plays grapple with how we understand the reality around us BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE he nature of truth is an ongoing, fraught debate in our troubled political times. So it’s no surprise the topic is on the boards. “Network” looked at the nature of news and the dichotomy between journalism as factual reporting and as an entertainment business. “The Lifespan of a Fact,” now winding down its run at Studio 54, questions whether factual accuracy should get in the way of a good story. When a story is a product, profit is the motive, and competition is intense, the truth and presumably ethics suffer. To reach a big audience, you have to “give ‘em what they want.” John, an award-winning writer, is known for the bending of facts to

T

PETER CUNNINGHAM

Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale in “The Lifespan of a Fact,” directed by Leigh Silverman, at Studio 54 through January 13.

achieve a literary end, yet his approach has put him in good stand-

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www.gaycitynews.com/broadwaycon2019 22

ing in the past. So well, in fact, that Emily, the editor at a struggling high end magazine, wants John’s story on a teen’s suicide to be her cover, rather than a fatuous piece on congressional wives. But Emily is on deadline, and she needs the piece fact-checked pronto. Enter Jim, an earnest intern, eager to prove himself. He takes on the project, with the promise of turnaround in 72 hours. While Emily thinks, perhaps hopes, that Jim will do a cursory job so the piece will be ready in time, Jim proves to be a latter-day Diogenes, tirelessly tracking down every point in the piece. Jim’s insistence on accuracy touches off a tetchy three-way battle that throws art, commerce, and truth into the arena in a deathmatch. John wants his literary storytelling. Emily wants a strong piece and plausible deniability for any errors that slip in. Jim wants the truth. For all the seriousness of the subject matter, though, the play is at heart a somewhat frothy comedy. To be sure, much of the humor comes from Jim’s terrier-like tenacity on each individual fact — he comes up with more than one hundred queries in the article’s first page — and the issue all

three are left to ponder is whether if one fact is wrong the veracity of the entire piece is called into question. The audience is left to ponder that quandary, as well, since no definitive resolution is offered. The production, under the witty and sharp direction of Leigh Silverman, is a quick 85 minutes, and the performances by the three stars are perfectly rendered. Cherry Jones is Emily in another focused and wonderfully economical performance. She has both her own issues and is the referee in the battle between Jim and John. Bobby Cannavale is excellent a John, with a brashness that somewhat masks an artist’s vulnerabilities. Daniel Radcliffe is simply great as Jim. With an American accent and a ferocious dedication to the job and the truth, he proves himself an equal combatant against the two older and more established characters. The three play very well together. Narrative journalism remains a questionable genre. Just days after I saw this show, the muchawarded German writer Claas Relotius was forced to return his awards for publishing at least 14 false articles in Der Spiegel with

➤ TRUTH, continued on p.23

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