"Lifespan of a Fact" - by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell - 4th Wall Stage Company (Worcester, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT" by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through June 15, 2024. Photo Courtesy 4th Wall Stage Company)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“But the essay is so much more. Sense from immeasurable tragedy. The history and meaning of Vegas. Despair. Yearning. What it is to be human in a city." 

   - ("Emily”) /  Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, Gordon Farrell

4th Wall Stage Company



Written by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell 

Based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal 

Directed by Frank Bartucca

Cast Includes: Fred D'Angelo as "John D'Agata," Robbin Joyce as "Emily Penrose", Chris Brennan as "Jim Fingal"


June 7, 2024 through June 15, 2024 

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)

Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St, Worcester, MA 




Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information.

4th Wall Stage Company has put together a fascinating look at the blurred line between truth and fiction in "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT." 

The play is based on a 2012 book co-written by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal

Not long after the 2016 Presidential election, Americans would become introduced and subsequently overwhelmed by the ludicrous premise of “alternative facts.” 

In the 2020 Presidential election, specifically during televised debates, the term “fact checker” would become synonymous with a CNN/MSNBC job held by some folks deserving of great pity. 

However, a few years before a trip down a golden escalator would forever change America’s collective perception of what "truth" is, a single essay was written about a very real single human tragedy which became the inspiration for "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT." 

"FACT" (noun) Definitions:

  • 1. "A thing that is known or proved to be true."
  • 2. "Information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article."
  • 3. Legal definition: "The truth about events as opposed to interpretation."  

John D’Agata (a real author played here by Fred D’Angelo) is a Nevada-based “essayist” who has composed an insightful, detailed essay about the suicide of a teenage boy. 

This particular essay comes at a time when the New York magazine for which he writes is on the verge of financial collapse. 

The play "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT" began as a book comprised mostly from D’Agata’s 2003 essay, “What Happens There.” 

After the book achieved much notoriety, in 2018, "LIFESPAN OF A FACT" was adapted for the Broadway stage by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell

The original Broadway cast included Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale

In the 4th Wall staging, Jim Fingal (Chris Brennan) is a Harvard grad now serving as a fact checker for the prominent New York magazine which is facing declining readership and sales. 

Emily Penrose (Robbin Joyce), Jim’s Editor-in-Chief, has assigned Jim to verify the details in John’s essay. 

Timing is critical and Joyce is on point as Emily, who has given Jim just one weekend to turn in his notes regarding whatever “minor corrections” may be required to what she feels is an otherwise remarkably poetic essay. 

As the play progresses, though, Jim finds himself going down a fact checking rabbit hole as he uncovers error upon error in the facts of John's story.

(Photo: Chris BrennanRobbin Joyce and Fred D'Angelo of "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT" by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through June 15, 2024. Photo Courtesy 4th Wall Stage Company)

In his attempts to confirm information with John, Jim soon finds himself engaging in various hostile exchanges with John based upon Jim's perception that John's essay consists primarily of made-up or “alternative” facts. 

The two men battle it out, first through texts, then on the phone, and then finally in person as Jim flies out to Las Vegas where John lives and begins his own investigation into the teen’s suicide. 

In D’Agata’s actual 2003 essay (entitled “What Happens There”) there was an attempt by the essayist to explore the culture of suicide in Las Vegas following the 2002 death of a 16-year-old named “Levi S. Presley.” 

From the moment Jim and John meet face to face, though, they battle one another in a toxic debate over facts versus truth as used in the style of an essay.

In reality, D’Agata’s essay, commissioned in 2003 by Harper's Magazine, was rejected after D’Agata and his editors argued over his approach to the “facts” and thus crossing the sometimes very fuzzy line between non-fiction and fiction. 

This is clearly driven home in the approach to the material by 4th Wall director Frank Bartucca and the solid performances provided by Joyce as Emily and Brennan as Jim.

Brennon's approach to the straight arrow personality of Jim is a perfect contrast to the world-weary writer D'Angelo portrays as John. 

Yet, as John himself professes, in the insightful portrayal by D’Angelo, he is “not a journalist” - he is an “essayist.” 

"Essayist" eludes to John's perceived ability to stretch the credibility of certain factual details as a matter of preserving the essay and the writer’s adherence to poetic license and overall creative spirit. 

Late in the show, in a marvelously textured and emotionally charged scene by the authors, John reveals where his rather extreme sense of the "truth" (and his sense of the "poetic") comes from in the guise of a simple piece of furniture, a winged armchair with side panels.

(Photo: The CAST of "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT" by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell, frothe 4th Wall Stage Company in Worcester, MA. through June 15, 2024. Photo Courtesy 4th Wall Stage Company)

As indicated, the approach to the material was solid as were the performances by the cast, although the pacing was sluggish at times. 

This was especially evident when more rapid-fire exchanges were clearly indicated during the more heated exchanges between Jim and John. 

The staging for the show is effectively kept to a simple black box style with draped black curtains and minimal sets. 

However, there was still some unnecessary downtime, mostly during a few of the scene transitions. 

With improved pacing, the show actually could have run without an intermission. 

The 4th Wall production of "THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT" continues in Worcester until June 15th and, while both clever and humorous, it is also peppered with moments that prove equally deep and fascinating.


Approximately one hour, 40 minutes with no intermission. 

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)




Jim Fingal is a fresh-out-of-Harvard fact checker for a prominent but sinking New York magazine. 

John D’Agata is a talented writer with a transcendent essay about the suicide of a teenage boy—an essay that could save the magazine from collapse. 

When Jim is assigned to fact check D’Agata’s essay, the two come head to head in a comedic yet gripping battle over facts versus truth.


4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY became a reality in 2010 and staged its first production in 2011. The mission of 4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY is to present live stage theatrical productions which are of enduring interest and which inspire, challenge, and entertain both artists and audiences. The goal is to attract audiences by providing roles to actors and actresses which are compelling and rewarding and help them to realize their full potential as artists as they explore ideas and emotions which speak to our common humanity. 4TH WALL STAGE COMPANY is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization and goals include outreach to other artists, cultural organizations, and educational institutions throughout Massachusetts while concentrating around home base of Central Massachusetts.


Mailing Address:

P.O. Box # 20034

Worcester MA 01602