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As we crest into the 2020s, John Adams' famous incantation that “facts are stubborn things” has never been more relevant. As a result, Asolo Repertory Theatre’s latest production “The Lifespan of a Fact” has been my most highly anticipated show of the season. We are living through an era where, depending on your point of view, facts are either the most sacred of all things or they are dispensable in a so-called “post-truth” era.
With speed and agility, the tremendous triumvirate of Tracy Michelle Arnold (Emily), Derek Speedy (Jim), and Gene Weygandt (John), bring to life a lengthy written essay. During the 80 minute show, you not only feel as though you have read the essay itself but also that you can imagine the final moments in the life of the suicidal young man at the center of that essay.
Arnold, who most recently graced the Asolo stage as Regina in “The Little Foxes,” gives a fantastic spitfire take on Emily, the editor who falls in love with the aforementioned essay for which she is ready to risk her career. Weygandt makes an unforgettable entrance as the quirky author, John, who plays with facts for their lyricism and their service to the greater story. Speedy, a recent Harvard grad himself, has a very apt surname. He was tremendous as Jim, a Harvard-educated intern, who worships at the altar of facts themselves.
Some of the very best moments of the play involve Weygandt and Speedy representing a clash of generations and of philosophies. As an example, the two engage in a lengthy and hilarious debate about how many cars can possibly constitute what John has referred to as a “traffic jam.” Jim and John have very different views of the specificity required by journalistic ethics; and Emily is called upon to serve as the arbitrator in this inter-generational squabble.
This clever and fast-moving play is extremely well executed and well cast. Without providing a spoiler, the conclusion feels abrupt and has left me wondering who truly won the debate as to whether we ought give primacy to facts or story. In the end is our life a series of facts layered upon one another or are we ultimately the co-creators of our own story?