Monday, February 20, 2023

The Fountain Theatre's 'The Lifespan of a Fact'

(l-r) Inger Tudor (seated), Ron Bottitta, and Jonah Robinson
in 'The Lifespan of a Fact'

By Darlene Donloe

Truth in journalism is under a microscope in Director Simon Levy’s ‘The Lifespan of a Fact,’ currently running through April 2, at The Fountain Theatre.

The comedy/drama is a case study in the ethics of storytelling. 

What’s more important: writing the truth, telling a good story – or somewhere in between?  It takes an intimate look at accuracy, truth, judgment, and ultimately creative license. 

As the story goes, John D’Agata, a cantankerous writer played with boldness by Rob Bottitta, has written an article, I mean an essay, about a Vegas teen’s suicide. 

His editor Emily Penrose, played with flair by Inger Tudor decides to have Jim Fingal, an intern deftly played by Jonah Robinson, fact-check/research the essay. Penrose gives him five days to complete the assignment. Both Penrose and Robinson quickly realize – there’s more to D’Agata’s essay than meets the eye.

In an effort to do a thorough job, Fingal has proudly written a more than 130-page spreadsheet of corrections/questions/inquiries for an essay that was only 15 pages long.

The question becomes just how many alternative facts someone can use in an essay before it becomes a pack of lies or just some semblance of the truth. 

How many alternative facts or 'fake news' accounts can someone use and the essay still be considered trustworthy? 

In ‘The Lifespan of a Fact,’ definitions of the truth can literally be split three different ways. 

It can be a slippery slope where essays are concerned. The same can’t be said for hard news stories which require facts. Most bonafide journalists have no use for pliable truths.

‘The Lifespan of a Fact’ is a heady, thought-provoking piece that nudges the audience to think.

For instance, if someone describes a brick as being red when everyone else sees it as brown, who is right and who is wrong?  Does it make a difference in the outcome of the story? Does it make a difference if someone fell 9 feet instead of 10? Well, maybe. It’s all about perception, or is it?

At one point in the show, D’Agata declares, “I’m not interested in accuracy. I’m interested in truth.”   

Chew on that audience. 

To his credit, D’Agata doesn’t consider himself a journalist. Instead, he considers himself an essayist who has creative liberties when it comes to bringing his essays to life. 

The play is based on a real essay penned by the writer John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, which was in turn based on their actual encounter in getting an article ready for a glossy New York magazine. The piece was originally called, ‘What Happens There.’

(l-r) Inger Tudor and Ron Bottitta

In real life, Fingal, a Harvard graduate, worked for a publication called The Believer. The essay was submitted to Harper’s Bazaar but was rejected because of its factual inaccuracies.

You don’t have to be a writer/journalist to understand what’s going on in this play.

It presents its case as both a drama and a comedy – and both genres work. 

What really makes this play work is the smart writing, solid directing, costuming, lights, sound, and most of all, the actors. Bottitta rings true as a crotchety, self-involved writer who has drunk his own Kool-Aid one too many times. Robinson brings intensity and just the right amount of naivety, innocence, and inexperience. Tudor has the unenviable job of trying to navigate a slippery slope between a veteran writer she respects and a fresh-faced intern eager to make his mark.

Levy has directed a sharp play. The movement around the stage keeps the pace going forward. The repartee between the trio is rapid and witty.

The ending of the play offers no conclusion. In fact, after the show, everyone was asking, ‘What do you think happened?”

Opinions were evenly split with everyone giving their analysis, convinced about what they just witnessed.

(l-r) Jonah Robinson and Ron Bottitta

After viewing this play, the skeptics and critics who have always had a distrust of the press, will, no doubt, feel justified in continuing to give it the side eye. 

‘The Lifespan of a Fact,’ directed by Simon Levy, written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, based on the book by John D'Agata and Jim Fingal, stars Ron Bottitta, Jonah Robinson, and Inger Tudor. 

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah), E (excellent), ‘The Lifespan of a Fact’ gets an O (oh, yeah).

‘The Lifespan of a Fact,’ The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA  90029, (corner of Fountain & Normandie, 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 8 p.m. Mon. (dark Monday, March 13) through April 2; $25-$45, Pay-What- You-Want seating is available every Monday night, for reservations and information, 323 663-1525 or

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