When journalist John D'Agatta wrote a play called "The Lifetime of a Fact" in 2003, he could not have known that one day it would become a dramatic Broadway drama starring a magician.
Note that there are six to eight errors in that sentence, depending on what you consider an error.
On the one hand, "D & # 39; Agata" has only one "T". The program that opened Thursday at Studio 54, starring Daniel Radcliffe along with Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones, is not a drama but a current comedy, and is called "The useful life of a fact" – not the "useful life" "
In addition, the work was not written in 2003, nor by Mr. D'Agata; rather, it was written, more recently, by a trio whose official credit would prefer to omit because, well, I find it awkward: Jeremy Kareken and David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.
If you think that is very important on my part, wait until you get an idea of the mature cartoon of Mr. D'Agata, especially as it is inhabited by the arrogant Mr. Cannavale. "I'm not interested in precision," he sings. "I'm interested in the truth." That is why he does not consider himself a journalist (it is mistake number 6), but a lyrical essayist, for whom the atmosphere has priority over facts and the rhythm about reliability.
So, does that mean he can only invent things or do details, like I've been doing?
"The Lifespan of a Fact" is based on a book of the same name that Mr. D & # 39; Agata wrote with Jim Fingal in 2012. That book, in turn, was based on an argument that began when Mr. Fingal As a young man, the inmate was assigned to review an article (sorry, essay) that Mr. D & A 39; Agata had written about the suicide of a teenager at a Las Vegas resort in 2002.
The character of Fingal, delightfully portrayed here by Mr. Radcliffe, who has now left behind the person of the magician, the character of Fingal is the physical and spiritual opposite of D & # 39; Agata: disheveled, small, clumsy and persevering. It's a mosquito for Mr. Cannavale's lion. Assigned by the editor of a brilliant New York magazine to verify the 15-page essay, he produces a 130-page spreadsheet that summarizes his queries.
Some deal with tangible but questionable details: were the bricks of the complex red, or, less interesting, brown? Some are epistemological: how could D'Agata have known what he could not have witnessed? And some suggest that the author has penetrated deeply into the territory of flat fiction.
Never more than now, with false news accusations flying, these questions plague writers, be they journalists, essayists or critics. The errors, the lies and the opinions are interchangeable with the events on Twitterverse, creating a cloud of doubts (and opportunities for the "artistic" adornment) around everything.
This apparently affects the dramatists, too. The New York gloss that is ready to publish D'Agata's essay in "The Lifespan of a Fact" is not the place where the real Mr. Fingal interned. He worked for a magazine called The Believer, then based in San Francisco, to which the essay was sent after Harper's Magazine rejected it because of objective inaccuracies. That's assuming you create accounts for The New York Times and The Daily Beast.
And The Believer's verification process, which actually lasted seven years, is compressed in the game to a tough five-day trial with an imminent deadline on the printer. What would not matter except that, for anyone in a publication, the idea of covering so many gaps in such large events in such a short time seems ridiculous.
At least we can be grateful for one of the liberties of the authors: the invention of Emily Penrose, the editor of the magazine, which is fair but tough-minded. Without it, "The useful life of an event" would be only two sides of an immutable argument, repeated with variations ad infinitum.
Actually, that's what it is anyway, but Penrose, which serves as a point of support for the plot, gives it nuance and meaning in the real world. She sees the publication in the context of an ecosystem of deteriorating knowledge, with enormous political and social implications.
The paper also gives Ms. Jones the rare opportunity to shine in lighter material than her usual Broadway chores. Speaking his way with an agile and curse-laden dialogue, he suggests a mix of Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson, the sparring editor and reporter for "The Front Page."
The fact that she is also, like those archetypally masculine characters, a totally professional creature makes this the rare work in which the feminine vertex of the triangle is not a romantic figure. I give "The Lifespan of a Fact" big Bechdel points for this, but also some compromise demerits. Foreclosures in every attempt that Fingal makes to analyze details of his personal life, also exerts us a foreclosure.
If that is dry, dryness is, in a way, a fascinating option. There used to be a Broadway comedy genre meant to be current but not emotional. Games like "Take Her, She & # 39; s Mine", "Fair Game" and "Norman, Is That You? "He dealt with the current social problems, the generational gap, divorce, gay liberation and so forth, as touchstones for a one-night light entertainment, and they were welcomed as such. This is how it is
But "The Lifespan of a Fact" clearly wants to be more than that, even if its raw material is not strong enough for the drama. (On the one hand, the original essay, eventually titled "What Happens There" and extracted from the dialogue, is so purple that it's hardly worth the fuss.) The authors compensate by inflating the supposed art of D & # 39; Agata to similar proportions. to those of Didion and Tenacity to mania.
Although compression and exaggeration are key writing tools, I am using them now, perhaps they are more suspicious in a work about the dangers of compression and exaggeration than in the type of boulevard comedies that "The useful life of an event" resembles.
Here they serve to disguise the "fact" that the authors, united in different ways, never solved the problem of how to make the conflict advance towards some culminating point, nor do D'Agata and Fingal ever agree with a definition. really. After 95 minutes of plausible arguments on each side, the game ends with a shrug. Both are right! And both wrong.
So, was I wrong, or did he simply tell me that "the useful life of an event" is "terribly interesting" 20 paragraphs ago? It could have been more accurate, though less ready for the marquee, to have written "incredibly attractive but not as smart as it seems".
That this does not matter much since the game throughout the ping-pong is the result of a fantastic comic staging by Leigh Silverman. With his cast, his waiting time, his perfect Mimi Lien game and the sound design of Palmer Hefferan, he is likely to suppress his laughter even without dialogue. It's what you call a good time.
Of course, I can not prove that.