The Lifespan of a Fact

Play Guide

by Brian Coats, Education Programs Associate

NOTE: This Play Guide may contain mild spoilers about the story of the show. If you like to be completely surprised by the play, you may wish to wait until after seeing it to read the Play Guide.


October 16 – November 10, 2019



Who's Who?

  • Emily Penrose: the editor-in-chief of a large, high-end magazine who acts as a level-headed, no-nonsense mediator in pursuit of former glory
  • Jim Fingal: a fresh-faced young intern at Emily’s company who strives to make an impression that will hopefully lead to a long, successful career
  • John D’Agata: a notable essayist with deep convictions who believes in the power of his work and the importance of a writer’s integrity

What's The Story?

Emily Penrose, the editor-in-chief of a high-end New York magazine, makes the last-minute decision to bump the cover story of her next issue in favor of an essay written by John D’Agata detailing the suicide of a teenage boy in Las Vegas. To Emily, the essay is both timely and a possible chance at redemption for her struggling magazine. With the quick turnaround, Emily seeks out an energetic and competent fact-checker to review the article over the course of several days to ready it for publication. Enter Jim Fingal, a young intern working for the company. After a quick meeting with Emily regarding the weight of the task ahead of him, Jim gets to work.

However, Emily soon realizes that she is in way over her head. What she had assumed was a straightforward task becomes incredibly complex under Fingal’s microscopic view, which has him checking every single possible fact in each and every line of the article. Feeling burdened, Emily sends Jim off to chat with the author himself, which results in a tumultuous and fiery conversation/adventure about journalistic integrity and truth that not even Emily could have seen coming.

The Lifespan of a Drama Regarding Facts

It is a truth universally acknowledged that real life is not at all like a book, movie, television show or stage play. Liberties are always taken and facts are stretched or exaggerated. This is certainly true of fictional narratives, but what about scripts based on actual events? The Lifespan of a Fact, written for the stage by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, is based on a real-life working relationship between John D’Agata and Jim Fingal that becomes an engaging, multi-layered conversation about the importance of complete honesty. Below are some real-life events that relate to the action of the play:

  • Fact: In 2002, a sixteen-year-old named Levi Presley jumped to his death from the top of a Stratosphere Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
  • Fact: In 2003, Harper Magazine commissioned essayist John D’Agata to write a piece about Presley’s suicide. It was pulled from publication after disagreements between the author and editors.
  • Fact: In 2005, Jim Fingal was interning at The Believer Magazine in San Francisco when D’Agata’s essay was assigned to him to fact check.
  • Fact: In 2010, The Believer Magazine published D’Agata’s essay, titled “What Happens There.”
  • Fact: In 2012, John D’Agata and Jim Fingal publish a book, The Lifespan of a Fact. It contains D’Agata’s original essay and five years of email communication between D’Agata and Fingal over the truthfulness of the piece.
  • Fact: In 2018, The Lifespan of a Fact premiered on Broadway starring Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale.

The stage comedy focuses on the no-holds-barred debate about truth and its place in a creative work. While the characters onstage argue back and forth, the audience gets to delve into its own debate: how much of what they are seeing – a play based on a real-life experience – is true, and how much has been altered for dramatic purposes? And finally, at the end of the day, how much does that actually matter?

Join us in the Browning Mainstage and attempt to separate the fact from the fiction!