The facts matter.
Too bad we can’t agree on what they are.
“Lifespan of a Fact” is a fight about facts. The play, which opens this Friday in the Gloucester Stage Company’s Gorton Theatre, presents an author, a fact-checker and an editor, arguing about what version of the truth should be published.
If that sounds hopelessly pedantic, think again.
“It’s funny, and that’s always a grace in a play,” says Lindsay Crouse, who returns to the GSC stage as the editor in charge. “It talks about what we really think is true. To have a play that leads you to a place of compassion—that’s what I’m interested in.”
Crouse makes what has become an annual appearance at GSC. After years of living in New York and Los Angeles, having a chance to work on Cape Ann, where Crouse spent her summers, is a blessing. “It’s a soul home,” she says of GSC, and Cape Ann in general. “I can keep going here, every summer. I hate to stop.”
Sam Weisman, Crouse’s longtime collaborator, directs “Lifespan of a Fact.” Derek Speedy plays the fact-checker, hell-bent on details. Mickey Solis plays the author of an essay that has suddenly become timely. Crouse negotiates between the two, trying to get to the truth, in order to make an approaching deadline.
The play has convoluted origins. In 2003 essayist John D’Agata wrote about suicide in Las Vegas for Harper’s magazine; they rejected his story because of doubts about its accuracy. The Believer magazine decided to buy the story, but fact-checker Jim Fingal spent seven years trying to verify those facts—and get D’Agata to change them—before it did get published.
Fingal’s persistent queries were so insightful they were also published, alongside the essay, as a nonfiction book in 2012. That in turn inspired this play, which premiered with a high-visibility cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale last season on Broadway.
This mostly all happened before the phrase “Fake News” became a political rallying cry. “The play is not political at all,” Crouse says firmly. “But immediately, right at the opening, I say, ‘This is suddenly and tragically timely,’ and that begins the debate.
“When plays have layers to think about—that’s what I thought was interesting about ‘Lifespan,’ ” she says. “It’s an unusual play, even the way the subject matter is presented. They are closed in a room, in a confined space. The truth is involved, with these are two people who are worlds apart.
“But the play just explores what the truth is,” Crouse says. “It presents the issue. It doesn’t create grand theories—it opens the subject.
“When I first heard about it I was fascinated,” she says. “I choose parts because they have a certain resonance. When you take a part you’re ritualizing something—there’s something there. Often you don’t even know what it is. But there’s always a reason.”
Gloucester Stage Company’s “Lifespan of a Fact” runs through Sept. 22 at the Gorton Theatre, 267 East Main St., Gloucester. For tickets and information visit www.gloucesterstage.com or call 978-281-4433.
Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media, Opera News and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to email@example.com.