Jamie Baio as Jim Fingal and Matthew Conlon as John D’Agata in "The Life Cycle of a Fact" during rehearsals at HTC. ANDREW BOTSFORD
Laurie Atlas as Emily Penrose and Jamie Baio as Jim Fingal in "The Life Cycle of a Fact" during rehearsals at HTC. ANDREW BOTSFORD
Jamie Baio, Laurie Atlas and Matthew Conlon in rehearsal for HTC's production of "The Lifespan of a Fact." DANE DUPUIS
The Hampton Theater Company (HTC) will present the journalism-themed play “The Lifespan of a Fact,” this month, forcing audiences to grapple with the question of truth.
The show was adapted from a novel of the same name and tells the story of Jim Fingal (played by HTC’s Jamie Baio), a Harvard student interning at a magazine, in charge of fact-checking an essay written by star writer John D’Agata (Matt Conlon) about a teenage boy who died by suicide in Las Vegas.
With the deadline only a week away, Fingal discovers several unproven claims and embellishments in the piece, leading him to go head-to-head with D’Agata as the deadline approaches, with the editor, Emily Penrose (Laurie Atlas) by their side.
The show originally debuted at New York’s Studio 54 in 2018, leading HTC producer Andrew Botsford and director George Lozides to want to pick it up themselves, noting most shows the company selects are ones its members have seen on the Broadway scene. In the 2018 version, Daniel Radcliffe starred as Jim Fingal, Bobby Cannavale played John D’Agata, and Cherry Jones was Emily Penrose.
“It’s not as much about the disinformation and misinformation of the various media sources we have today in social media and so forth,” explained Botsford. “It’s more about the age-old issue of writers trying to take a little bit of license with the facts at what they think is the heart of the story.”
The writers in the play write the story in an attempt to save their magazine, which is floundering. According to Botsford, D’Agata takes the position of discounting facts, arguing they don’t matter and are mere embellishments to shake up the story, while Fingal, a stickler for the rules of journalism, insists they cannot run a piece in the magazine with any untruths.
“Our audience is an aware audience, politically and otherwise,” said Loizides. “There are both liberals and conservatives in the community and we’re not the type of theater that just does musicals or comedies. We like to do plays occasionally that give you something to think about as opposed to just being entertainment. Not that there’s anything wrong with just entertainment. But this is a little bit more than that. And I think it’s a good choice for our audience.”
One aspect of this production that drew Botsford to the show was the small cast, lessening the financial burden of the production for HTC. The theater has been planning the show for a long period of time, said Botsford, and as the pandemic winds down, they finally found a place for it. Loizides added it took the company a year and a half to acquire the rights to the show.
Loizides describes his approach to directing such a small cast as a puzzle coming together. He started with a read-through with the entire cast and has brought actors to rehearse their scenes two at a time, allowing them to hone in on their skills, working up to a full run-through a couple of weeks ago.
“We do a lot of talking about characters,” he said. “We do a lot of talking about the subject matter. We talk about blocking the movements. I’ve left a lot of the movements in the play up to the actors to develop out of their own characters.”
Even before the pandemic, HTC had been having trouble with casting, according to Botsford, leading the theater to precast several roles.
“We like to precast from members of our company, people we’ve worked with before,” said Botsford. “We know what they’re capable of. We know how they are about direction. We know how they work in ensembles. If you cast from the outside, especially in principal roles … you don’t know how they’re going to fit in with an ensemble.”
In this case, Lozides already had the cast in mind for this show in advance. “They fit into my idea or vision of what the character should be,” he said.
Lozides had directed Baio in the HTC production of “Lost in Yonkers,” in 2016. Baio was a high school student at the time, though the two have known each other since Baio was a child when Baio’s mother choreographed the shows Loizides directed at Ward Melville High School in Setauket. The director also worked with Conlan in multiple shows at HTC and he has gotten to know Altas through the Playcraft Theater Company in Bellport, having done multiple radio shows with her.
The set for “The Lifespan of a Fact” was also designed by Loizides, as he has done for several of the company’s recent shows. The space is small, he notes, so the design must be strategically planned out to make the most use of it.
“One of the actors calls it a pressure cooker,” said Loizides. “ Because you’re in this space trying to wade through the arguments of the play.”
Some of the content referenced by the actors is based on texts and emails, which will be projected on a screen, making it easy for the audience to follow. The show runs for about 80 minutes, without intermission.
“The ideas keep flowing, the action keeps happening,” said Lozides. “It just moves right along and hopefully, it’s gonna leave the audience thinking about the issue.”
Hampton Theatre Company’s production of “The Lifespan of a Fact” runs March 16 through April 2 at Quogue Community Hall. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. An additional matinee will be offered on Saturday, April 1, at 2:30 p.m. prior to the evening show. A talkback with the cast follows the Friday, March 24, performance. Tickets are $36 ($31 seniors, $20 students) at hamptontheatre.org or 631-653-8955. Quogue Community Hall is at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue.
One fine body…