Main Street News

“The Lifespan of a Fact” Dazzles at the Sharon Playhouse

By Published On: October 6th, 2023

“The Lifespan of a Fact” is essentially an 85-minute argument between the three characters that will keep you on the edge of your seat and questioning where the truth actually lies.

The play centers around an essay written by John D’Agata about the suicide of a young man named Levi Presley. He submits it to a national magazine, where the editor Emily Penrose finds it spectacular, and appoints intern Jim Fingal to fact check it before it gets published.

Things quickly go downhill from here. Jim is adamant that facts are unyielding, while John is less interested in the so-called fixed nature of facts, and takes liberties to change them slightly in order to make the essay more impactful.

Emily finds herself in the middle of the argument between the two men, and is constantly trying to keep the element of story alive to engage readers while trying to ensure that the magazine will not be liable for incorrect statements.

The play is written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell and is based on the book written by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal about an actual essay and its consequential fallout.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge

Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge said that she had seen the play during its Broadway debut and found it to be “fascinating and something I would love to play with if or when the opportunity arose. I’m so glad I said ‘yes.’”

Jennifer Van Dyck, Jonathan Walker, and Reynaldo Piniella are the three cast members in “The Lifespan of a Fact,” and Marcia said that working with them has been “pure joy!” She holds the three actors in the highest regard and noted that they are the most exciting part of the play for her.

“I’m in the Reynaldo-Jennifer-Jonathan fan club! Each came with thoughtful preparation, and we were able to mine and navigate the nuances and slightly farcical approach that I had for the text,” she said.

Keeping all elements of a play in sync is no easy feat, and Marcia said that she did a ton of preparation and research beforehand; “And I read the play. A lot.”

She worked with set designer TJ Greenway to create an environment that set the style and allowed the text to fly, discussed the characters’ vibe, style, and colors with costume designer Kate DeAngelis, set the tone and mood lighting to shape the emotional journey with lighting designer Hailey O’Leary, and came up with aural design that serves the play with sound designer David Bullard.

No great production comes without challenges, and Marcia noted that what is most exciting about the play is also the most daunting part.

“We are doing it all on the stage, meaning the audience is sitting a few feet away from the actors, so it’s a very circular, environmental world. The fun has been in the staging with some of what I hope are surprises for those who may not be familiar with the play.”

Jonathan Walker

Jonathan Walker plays John D’Agata, the writer of the essay that is at the center of the story.

His favorite part about his character is John’s loyalty to his mother, whom he took care of after she fell ill. “John switched teaching jobs, moved in with her, and was her caregiver until her death. That’s not easy and a great many people don’t/won’t give themselves over so completely. It cost him dearly, yet he stuck with it. I love that.”

Something Jonathan dislikes about his character is his stubbornness. “He has a difficult time listening to others without having a strong personal reaction. He needs a few more skills in the listening department.”

The biggest challenge for Jonathan regarding taking this role was learning the lines. He said that they had a very short rehearsal time and the play is very text heavy. There were a lot of twists, turns, and nuanced themes to learn.

Jonathan also shared that it is “an honor and a privilege to be at the Sharon Playhouse under the auspices of Carl Andress and the whole Playhouse team.” He also was sure to note that it’s “always a delight, treat, and joy,” to be working alongside his wife and colleague of 33 years, Jennifer Van Dyck.

Without giving anything away, Jonathan’s favorite line of dialogue is: “It is not a crime to try and find the music in a boy’s life.”

Jennifer Van Dyck

Jennifer Van Dyck plays Emily Penrose, the editor of the magazine.

Her favorite bit about Emily is her fierceness and fearlessness, but she said that she dislikes her quick temper. For Jennifer, the biggest challenge in taking on this role is that Emily is a multi-tasker. This means that onstage she is constantly “juggling technical aspects of the production with the emotional journey” and noted that, “conducting a business day at the office while telling the story of the play requires intense focus.”

Jennifer said that Marcia, the director, previously referred to the play as a “boxing match, with Emily as the referee.” That’s certainly an appropriate metaphor.

Because the space at the playhouse has been rearranged to accommodate seating on the stage, Jennifer said that it “brings the audience right to the edge of the ring, as it were. Questions about ‘what is truth?’ and ‘what is fiction?’ could not be more timely, given our current political, social, and environmental situation.”

Jennifer’s favorite bit of dialogue is: “There is nothing more important than story.”

Reynaldo Piniella

Reynaldo Piniella plays Jim Fingal, the intern assigned to fact-check the essay at the center of the play. Reynaldo’s favorite part about his character is “Jim’s steadfast dedication to the facts. Despite how seductive embellishing an essay can be, Jim stays true to his belief that facts have to be the final measure of the truth.”

However, Reynaldo said that Jim often goes “a step too far” in his pursuit of the facts, which means he oversteps the personal boundaries of other characters and invades their personal space too often.

Reynaldo said that the most challenging part of taking on this role is that, “Jim is a young man full of ideas and ambition, and that often manifests itself in the form of long run-on sentences and monologues. Finding my way inside of his thought patterns and embodying his tics and anxieties has been a fun challenge to tackle.”

Without giving anything away, Reynaldo’s favorite line of dialogue is, “Conflue is not a word.”

Final notes

“The Lifespan of a Fact” is a tense, fast-moving, and intriguing show. The actors make the most of the small stage, and the seating being moved on the stage itself only serves to immerse the viewers further in the story.

You can catch “The Lifespan of a Fact” at the Sharon Playhouse until October 15. View their calendar of events and purchase tickets here.

The Sharon Playhouse
49 Amenia Road, Sharon, CT 06069
(860) 364-7469

Photos by Aly Morrissey Photography.