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Fact, truth tangle in Baylor Theatre’s ‘Lifespan of a Fact’

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"The Lifespan of a Fact"

A writer and magazine fact-checker wrestle over verifiable facts and a higher truth in Baylor Theatre's "The Lifespan of a Fact."

Is there a difference between factually true and true? Is truth always verifiable? Can fact and fiction coexist or is truth a zero-sum game?

That’s the territory explored in the play “The Lifespan of a Fact,” presented Thursday through Saturday night at Baylor University’s black box Theater 11 in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center.

The 2018 play, written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, is adapted from the book of the same title co-written by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal.

The book’s two authors are the real-life story’s central characters. D’Agata is a writer who penned the piece “What Happens There,” about a suicide in Las Vegas and the culture there that might have encouraged it. Jim Fingal is the fact checker for “The Believer” magazine that ultimately published D’Agata’s essay, but not without years of dialogue and discussion between the two men on what could and should be printed.

For Baylor graduate student and director Marian Barshinger, the story and play provided plenty of material to think about for someone who creates art: Is there a difference between the truth found in factual reality and the reality from beauty and art?

“It’s interesting to explore that tension. (The play) doesn’t actually give us the answer, but asks the question,” she said.

The interplay between D’Agata (Mitchell Hall) and Fingal (Joseph Tully), expanded at times with the addition of editor Emily Penrose (Stella Pozzuoli), drives the play, its wit and ideas serving as action pulling the story forward. “None of the words are wasted. I think it’s incredibly engaging,” she said. “We want someone to be right and they kind of both are.”

Making the play even more relevant, she said, is the current “post-factual” time when provable facts no longer seem to carry an argument.

A native Pennsylvanian, the 28-year-old Barshinger got sucked into theater by an older sister who would eventually create her own company, Players of the Stage. Barshinger studied acting and directing at DeSales University and found an affinity for directing that brought her to the Baylor program. “I found I loved telling the story and shaping the overall story,” she said. “I want to make a safe place for actors. My job is to help actors discover what the play is about.”

“The Lifespan of a Fact” contains strong language and mature subject matter. The Thursday and Friday performances are sold out.

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