Is the Truth Out There? Daniel Radcliffe Hunts for It in “The Lifespan of a Fact”

Based on the publication and aftermath of a nonfiction story about a suicide, a new play raises incredibly timely questions.

Photo by Peter Cunningham, 2018

In his third outing on Broadway, Oxford-born superstar Daniel Radclife (aka Harry Potter) is taking on a role unlike any other he’s has attempted to date: research assistant at a prestegious newspaper. Will his new musical make headlines?

the lifespan of a fact
Radcliffe plays recent Harvard graduate Jim Fingal. / Photo by Peter Cunningham, 2018

OK, stop! I’m sure you caught the many mistakes I deliberately snuck into that first paragraph. Right? Properly edited and fact-checked, it would have read:

In his third fourth outing on Broadway, OxfordLondon-born superstar Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) is taking on a role unlike any other he’s has attempted to date: research assistant fact-checker at a presteigious newspaper magazine. Will his new musical play make headlines?

Alas, copy and factual gaffes happen all the time. A reporter makes mistakes out of carelessness or due to bad sources or other more nefarious reasons; editors don’t catch the errors; readers don’t notice it; and we’re all a little dumber as a result. In politics or science or law enforcement, faulty data can have disastrous consequences. In Radcliffe’s new theatrical project, The Lifespan of a Fact, the inaccuracies are there for a reason; in fact, you could say they are part of the style.

The true story behind this new play, written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, is a fascinating interplay of fact and fiction. In 2005, The Believer published John D’Agata’s nonfiction account of a teen suicide in Las Vegas called “What Happens There.” The essay was fact-checked by recent Harvard graduate Jim Fingal. What began as a standard editorial task snowballed into seven years of intense dialogue between D’Agata and Fingal about the ethics of factuality and the boundaries of truth and fiction when it comes to literary nonfiction. Both the essay and Fingal’s voluminous notes on it were collected in the 2012 book The Lifespan of a Fact. That has now (somehow!) been turned into a drama. Radcliffe plays Fingal.

the lifespan of a fact
Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones round out the A-list cast. / Photos by Peter Cunningham, 2018

The world premiere is directed by the prolific Leigh Silverman and costars Bobby Cannavale as the truth-twisting essayist and Cherry Jones as his high-powered editor. If you’re worried about all the loose talk of fake news and want to trust the media, this show will help get to the truth. Or a more true-ish sort of truth.

Why You Should Go: Radcliffe expands his ambitious theater CV with a juicy journalism drama about the role of lies in reporting the truth.

The Lifespan of a Fact
Studio 54
254 West 54th Street (between Eighth Avenue and Broadway), Midtown
Through Sunday, January 13

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