Lifespan of a Fact – A Theatrical Look Into What Can, And Can’t, Be Proven To Be True

PJ Powers, Juliet Hart and Alex Benito Rodriguez. Photo: Liz Lauren
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TimeLine Theatre Company at 615 Wellington Avenue in Chicago was founded in 1997 to share historic stories that relate to today’s political and social conversation. The theater has put on 88 productions, including 13 world premieres and 39 Chicago premieres. 

The Lifespan of a Fact opened in 2018 on Broadway, starring Daniel Radcliffe, Bobby Cannavale and Cherry Jones as the play’s three characters. The 90-minute show with no intermission is based on a true story and explores the difference between truth and fact in the world of publishing. 

Alex Benito Rodriguez, Juliet Hart and PJ Powers. Photo: Liz Lauren

The character Jim Fingal is based on a real-life fact checker at magazine The Believer, tasked with looking over a piece submitted by famous author John D’Agata. But as Fingal reviews every single detail of D’Agata’s essay, he navigates his view of journalism and how it conflicts with Fingal’s ideas about what is true and what isn’t.

Alex Benito Rodriguez as Jim Fingal. Photo: Liz Lauren

In this comedy of ethics, Fingal grapples with D’Agata’s made-up “facts” – especially since his essay centers a teenager who committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a Las Vegas building – before his demanding editor-in-chief, Emily Penrose, steps in as the publication’s deadline approaches. The whole production is based on a book, co-authored by Fingal and D’Agata.

Alex Benito Rodriguez and Juliet Hart. Photo: Liz Lauren

Alex Benito Rodriguez plays the fact checker Jim Fingal in his debut at TimeLine Theatre Company. His Chicago theater credits include First Floor Theatre’s Botticelli in the Fire, for which he was nominated for the 2022 Jeff Award for Actor in a Principal Role. As a member of Wender Collective, Rodriguez has been in productions of The Brink around the world at Steppenwolf Theatre, Links Hall Chicago, Dartmouth College, Krakow Poland, and The Theatre Olympics in India. He has also appeared on TV in Chicago Fire.

PJ Powers is essayist John D’Agata. Powers co-founded TimeLine in 1997 and started as the theater’s artistic director in 1999. Since then, TimeLine has received 60 Jeff Awards and the 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Powers has also received the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s Goldman Sachs’ Senior Fellowship and served on the Board of Directors for the League of Chicago Theatres. He has acted in 18 TimeLine productions, as well as in shows at Writers, Northlight, and Shattered Globe. 

PJ Powers as John D’Agata. Photo: Liz Lauren

Juliet Hart plays editor Emily Penrose. With Powers, Hart is a founding Company Member of TimeLine. Both acted in the theater’s 2015 production of The Apple Family Plays. Hart most recently appeared in TimeLine’s A Disappearing Number in 2017 and Oslo in 2019. In Chicago, she’s been involved with Chicago Shakespeare, Prop Thtr, Zebra Crossing and Collaboraction. On TV, catch Hart in Chicago Fire and Proven Innocent, or in the movie One Year Later.

Mechelle Moe, a TimeLine Company Member, directed The Lifespan of a Fact, which was written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.

Alex Benito Rodriguez, Juliet Hart and PJ Powers. Photo: Liz Lauren

“What is our relationship to truth and facts? How do we uphold them, champion them, question them? What is the impact to society when misinformation allows truth and facts to be compromised and manipulated to serve a purpose or agenda?” asks Moe, the play’s director. “And are facts, indeed, the final measure of truth? With this topical comedy, we’ll delve into all these questions, and hopefully share some laughs along the way.”

“This play calls out with a bold red pen that facts matter, while also acknowledging the sometimes-fuzzy distinction between artistic license and journalism, each with its own set of responsibilities for storytelling and reporting,” Powers said. “As people’s sources for news – and truth – become more varied, the debate between John D’Agata and Jim Fingal is sure to resonate with Chicago audiences who experience this provocative show.”

Alex Benito Rodriguez and PJ Powers. Photo: Liz Lauren

The Lifespan of a Fact runs through Dec. 23 with regular performances on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. However, there will be no 4 p.m. show on Nov. 11 or on Nov. 22 and 23. Added matinees are on Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. 

Captioned performances will take place on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, while an audio-described performance will be on Dec. 15. 

A post-show discussion, hosted by a TimeLine Company Member, will take place on Nov. 30 and Dec. 17. A 25-minute pre-show discussion will occur on Nov. 26 and Dec. 6. On Dec. 3, there will also be a post-show discussion, but this one will be hosted by the artists who chose TimeLine’s programming. And on Dec. 10, a member of TimeLine’s production team will moderate a one-hour panel with experts on the play’s themes. All discussions are free and open to the public. 

Tickets start at $52. For tickets, visit timelinetheatre.com or call the box office at (773) 281-8463 x6.

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