Wednesday, May 10, 2023



May 7, 2023

By Ruth Ross

The tension between fiction and fact in journalism has always been fraught: Many news stories have been pulled and writers censured—or even fired—by well-respected news outlets when inaccuracies, deliberate or not, have been exposed—and have exposed the outlet to legal action.

Indeed, in this age of misinformation and fake news, such discrepancies are even more important when even the smallest inaccuracy, easily checked on the Internet, can result in a lawsuit against the news purveyor.

The Lifespan of a Fact, by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, currently onstage at the Chatham Playhouse, addresses this gripping dilemma as Emily Penrose, editor of a prominent, but sinking, New York magazine, must decide whether correcting the inaccuracies uncovered by her young, eager fact-checker Jim Finga takes precedence over the more artistic writing of her long-time contributor John D’Agata, whose an essay about the suicide of teenage boy could save the magazine from collapse. Over the course of 90 minutes, the two come head-to-head in a comedic yet gripping battle over facts vs. truth. The stakes become existential—if not for the two men, then for the magazine itself. (Right: Corey Chichizola and Gabrielle Wagner: Emily interviews Jim for a job as her magazine's fact-checker.)

Douglas McLaughlin’s taut direction winds the tension tighter and tighter as the action progresses, focusing on the seriousness of the situation but managing to find humor in Jim’s insistence on fact and John’s equally strong defense of art. Corey Chichizola’s tightly wound, eager-to-impress Harvard grad (as he points out in his job interview) Jim is maddening yet sympathetic as he attempts to keep maintain “journalistic integrity.” Indeed, he has compiled a 130-page spreadsheet of inaccuracies he found in the piece, starting on the first page! 

Meanwhile, the older, more likeable but equally as maddening John (Kevin Cluff, left with Chichizola) continues to insist that he has changed the facts slightly to maintain the “rhythm” of his piece! As he puts it, who cares whether it took the kid’s body 9 or 8 seconds to descend from the casino tower? Nine reads (and feels) better. Anyway, he’s not a journalist and doesn’t need to get every fact correct. 

As the mediator of the clash, Gabrielle Wagner’s Emily finds herself in a bind: she respects John’s art but is worried that his often-flagrant disregard for facts could bring down her magazine and she’d be out of a job. The dilemma facing her is evident in Wagner’s body language as she moves around John’s Las Vegas apartment, sometimes sitting near Jim and sometimes near John.

Alan Ellis and Roy Pancirov have designed a wonderful set: the curtains behind a sterile office space on the playing floor open to reveal an apartment on the stage. Diane Giangreco’s lighting is appropriate for both spaces—sterile for the office and warmer for Las Vegas.

In his Director’s Notes, McLaughlin says that the play “examines the importance of connection and collaboration.” The relationship between Finga and D’Agata is adversarial right from the start: young, idealistic go-getter vs. laid-back, more experienced (and successful) writer. The assignment Emily gives Jim sets the scene for a clash of wills, as does Jim’s unexpected and unwelcome appearance at John’s apartment to go over corrections.

Based on a book by John D’Agata and Jim Finga, The Lifespan of a Fact, is the culmination of a season of stellar performances. It’s an edgy play for a community theater, but it’s in line with other choices the company has made in the past, dating back to Rabbit Hole in 2020-2011!

Once again, the Chatham Community Players has shown local audiences that one doesn’t have to cross the Hudson River for fine theater. The Lifespan of a Fact should produce a lively discussion over post-show coffee or in the car going home. Get on over to the playhouse before it closes!

The remaining performances of The Lifespan of a Fact are May 11 through 13 at 8 PM and May 14 at 3 PM at the Chatham Playhouse, 29 N. Passaic Ave., Chatham. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.635.7373 or visit