This production was scheduled September 1-3, 2023.

If you are a writer—of fiction, nonfiction, or perhaps especially the genre known as “narrative nonfiction” or “creative nonfiction”—you have a stake in the issues at play in By the Sea Productions’ staged reading this weekend of the drama The Lifespan of a Fact.

Even if you aren’t a writer, you may look at your use of words in everyday conversation a bit more closely after seeing this production, written in 2018 by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell.

Promoted as a “battle between truth and fact,” the play uses three characters—a writer, a fact-checker, and an editor—to hash out, but not necessarily pin down, what we mean when we use words like accuracy, fact, style, nuance. But those words, as bandied about by Larry Barnes, Brandon MacDonald, and Kate Kravets playing our trio of wordsmiths on a tight deadline, produce other weighty words for our consideration: judgement, credibility, trust, meaning, truth.

Director Jean Miller has given her cast the leeway to express the outrage, the exasperation, and even the pomposity that the material calls for, even though the actors remain on-book throughout the 90-minute (with one intermission) performance. At the center of the action is an article, or rather an essay (just one of the word-bones of contention among the characters) that purports to examine the culture of suicide following the death of a teenager in Las Vegas.

Does reaching for “deep poetic truth” justify fudging the facts around an actual incident? Must we concern ourselves with accuracy above all else when words like truth and memory can be stretched to plumb emotional depths?

Barnes plays the always egotistical, sometimes petty, somewhat reckless and impulsive writer with aplomb. MacDonald as the fact-checker confronts the writer’s hubris with a growing self-confidence, endowing many of his lines with an artful understanding that emerges as the character grows in his understanding of the possible ambiguities of nonfiction. Kravets, as the editor, maintains an authoritative, even maternal attitude while playing mediator, referee, and peacemaker between the other two. She’s best when her character’s exasperation gets the better of her, as when she teases the title of another article (“Congressional Spouses and the Burdens They Bear”) that she may have to substitute for the one under discussion.

A special nod to Miller and crew—Rayna Ortiz, Rhonda Crowfoot, and Samvel Gottlieb—who have seen to it that the staging, lighting, and especially the necessary sound effects for the show are spot-on. The Lifespan of a Fact as presented here may not be fully staged, but it is fully realized as  a thought-provoking exchange of creative ideas.

:: Charlotte Alexander