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Lifespan of a Fact Hashes it Out

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Does a fact have a beginning, middle and end, or is it static and unliving? Perhaps its existence is immutable, but what of its pertinence or purpose? Do facts serve truth, or is it the other way around? And where does story fit in this philosophical quagmire? Do the answers impact our daily lives? These are the questions posed and argued in Redwood Curtain Theatre's production of Lifespan of a Fact by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, and directed here by David Hamilton. It's based on the book by the same name written by two of the characters in the play, John D'Agata and Jim Fingal. Both book and play are centered on an essay written by D'Agata in 2003 about the suicide of a teenage boy in Las Vegas, and the important distinctions between truth and fact that the essay unintentionally brings forth. Each character presents their own answers with accessible dialogue and compelling action.

Emily Penrose, editor of a prestigious but struggling magazine, is played with purpose (and deadline-) driven energy by Christina Jioras. Penrose's goal is clear from the outset but Jioras plays the evolution of what she's willing to do to reach it with a great deal of nuance. D'Agata, to whom Tony Cogliati gives the very embodiment of surly, quixotic, self-satisfied essayist, is at first utterly unmoved by pleas for journalistic standards. He disregards the importance of pesky facts the pesky intern keeps going on about. Between these two is our nervous, eager to please yet reluctant to compromise intern Jim Fingal, played with great physicality and frenetic energy by Jordan Dobbins. It would seem at first that everyone shares the same goal: to publish a transcendent essay. But Fingals' uncompromising, even pedantic view of how facts should be portrayed in the essay crashes against D'Agata's equally uncompromising defense of his artistic right to use "facts" as he sees fit in pursuit of crafting his essay. Penrose, a savvy editor, thinks she knows what compromises need to be made but her certainty is tested as she manages the two men. The three characters interact with as much humor as argument and, for all they differ, they are very relatable.

Redwood Curtain's intimate theater is a fitting venue for a play that asks its characters and the audience to dig deeply into personal and moral questions. The proximity to the stage makes it feel larger, and scenic designer Laura Rhinehart takes full advantage by setting the initially conflicting characters on opposite sides. Penrose's office is juxtaposed with the D'Agata's home, with intern Fingal drawing the audience back and forth between the two forces of literary nature; a tennis match of personalities and priorities with the outcome putting everybody's job on the line. There is also a middle ground used both literally and figuratively to give the characters a third place to rest or work. These little lulls are welcome respites from the intense conflicts. As the story and underlying arguments progress, there are smooth, natural shifts between who is in opposition and who serves as the fulcrum in the moment.

Redwood Curtain's stage has very little structure to work with, so lighting designer Michael Burkhart skillfully uses area lighting and darkness to help obscure on-stage transitions and spots to emphasize the action. Sound effects for rings, notifications and other minutiae we rely on to interact with technology are timed excellently, if a little overwhelming in the small space. The pre-recorded voiceovers are likewise used well, though some might find the volume a bit disconcerting. (That's me. I'm some.) Otherwise, Tammy Rae Scott has designed the sound to give urgency where needed. I especially like the way the sound effects build frustration and tension between Penrose and Fingal when the harried intern is trying to get some direction from the pressured editor. The emphasis on Penrose's multi-tasking with multiple devices is also a great foil to D'Agata's single, solid, brick-like black phone and simple laptop. That old style push-button phone is a great insight to how open D'Agata is to change.

I'm not certain where Lifespan of a Fact falls on the fact-to-fiction spectrum, but it's an enjoyable and thought-provoking play to experience.

Redwood Curtain Theatre presents of Lifespan of a Fact Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, and Thursday, Nov. 17, to Saturday, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Nov. 13. Call (707) 443-7688 or visit redwoodcurtain.com.

Doranna Benker Gilkey (she/her) is a longtime Humboldt County resident and can often be found at her store Dandar's Boardgames and Books in Arcata.

NOW PLAYING

NCRT's production of Gaslight shows Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 20. Call (707) 442-6278 or visit ncrt.net.

COMING SOON

The Arcata Playhouse brings back the cabaret madness with Papaya Lounge: Possessed Thursday, Nov. 10, through Saturday, Nov. 12. Call (707) 822-1575 or visit arcataplayhouse.org.

Dorothy travels to the Emerald City via the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts in Main Stage Humboldt's production of The Wizard of Oz Nov. 19 through 26. Visit mainstagehumboldt.org or call (707) 442-1956.

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