THE BASICS: THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT, the Broadway hit play written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell, directed by Kyle LoConti, presented by D’Youville College’s Kavinoky Theatre, opened this last weekend and runs through June 26, Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30, also Saturdays 3:30, and Sundays 2, at 320 Porter Ave, Buffalo, NY 14201. 716.829.7668 kavinokytheatre.com Runtime: 1 hour and 45 minutes with one intermission (full cocktail menu available in the lounge). Masks are required in the theater.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Fact: In 2003 the real-life John D’Agata wrote an essay (not an article as he makes clear) for a magazine about the 2002 suicide of a 16-year-old boy in Las Vegas, a city known for suicides. Fact: The editor of the magazine, Emily Penrose, had that essay (titled “What Happens There”) fact-checked by Jim Fingal, an eager-beaver intern and recent Harvard graduate, whose super-diligence uncovered many “errors.” Fact: the two men ultimately wrote a 123-page book, published in 2012 by Norton, about their “collaboration” (or what I would call “head butting”). In 2018 the book, highly praised and recommended by many, including NPR, Slate, and The New York Times Book Review, was turned into a play during the Trump presidency, famous for “Alternative Facts.” On Broadway, starring Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, and Daniel Radcliffe, it was a hit. Does it still have “legs?” Oh, yes; it does, and that’s a fact.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This current run of THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT is superbly cast starting with Peter Palmisano as the essayist John D’Agata, the writer who does not want his world-view challenged nor his work questioned. There’s always a hint of defiance in the face of fear in the roles Palmisano takes on. He was Joe Keller, the manufacturer of shoddy war-plane parts in ALL MY SONS; Nixon’s Chief of Staff in FROST/NIXON; Hank the bar owner who saw his legacy imperiled in THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW; and most recently Robin, the husband who is lying to his wife, even though it’s for what he sees as the best of reasons, in THE CHILDREN. Palmisano never plays it sleazy or underhanded, and yet is able to convey, ever so subtly, characters with a whiff of self-doubt, who use bluff and bluster to cover that up.
Now, on a related note, look at the producing companies of the four plays just mentioned, two at the Irish Classical Theatre, one at Road Less Traveled, and one by Red Thread Theatre. These theater companies, like the Kavinoky, are known for producing thinking-person’s plays for audiences who love language, words, subtlety, and nuance, along with a well-set-up laugh. Why mention other theaters in a review of a play at the Kavinoky? Because most audiences tend to stick to just one theater in town, often buying a season’s pass at their go-to place, which generally is a good thing to do. Yet if you have friends who only attend those other theaters exclusively, you might invite them to try this play at The Kavinoky. They will thank you for it, and that’s a fact.
While Broadway, broadly speaking, might be a little slow to get to gender equity, in Buffalo we are blessed with several top-notch women directors, and Kyle LoConti is one of them. She is a thinking person’s director who recently directed Aaron Sorkin’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as well as its temporary replacement play, 1984, both at the Kavinoky, but, get this, some of her best work has been at the highly acclaimed Theatre of Youth. That’s the mark of a professional at the top of her game, able to handle “wordy” adult plays and children’s plays with equal aplomb.
Now, I’ll admit, when I first saw that Loraine O’Donnell (whose “day job” is Executive Artistic Director of the D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre) was going to play editor Emily Penrose I thought “Hmmm. Is this a Kavinoky Kost Kutting measure?” Hah! Was I wrong! She is perfect in the role. And I’m sure that besides being a journalism major in college, her current day job of running a theater did prepare her for her role as referee and baby-sitter in the essayist vs. fact-checker squabbles.
Brian Brown, who plays the fact-checker, is one of our most versatile younger actors and he is everywhere these days, a true “triple threat” – actor, singer, dancer if not with Second Generation Theatre, then with his “home” company Ujima, where he has just been appointed Managing Director. His dancer’s body lets him add a physical expression to his character that makes him an equal part of the on-stage triangle. What can I say, this is one of the best cast plays this season.
The set design by Dyan Burlingame is clever and while the original Broadway production of LIFESPAN was done in one act without intermission, I would say the intermission blackout provides one of the best moments and also allows for a refreshing set change.
Both the production and the play are of high caliber. And it’s very funny. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
Lead image: (L-R) Brian Brown as Jim Fingal, Loraine O’Donnell as Emily Penrose, and Peter Palmisano as John D’Agata | Photo by Gene Witkowski
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!