The literary aftermath of a real-life tragedy, as told by an award-winning essayist, becomes a Mount Everest in the realm of fact-checking.
That’s the case of author John D’Agata, who came up against the earnest endeavors of Jim Fingal, a tech-savvy Harvard graduate eager to do well in the publishing world. They clash over details of D’Agata’s essay, which opens with a young man’s suicide in Las Vegas. Spreadsheet in hand, Fingal’s questions about accuracy range from the number of strip clubs in the city to what was the actual phase of the moon on a certain night.
While this all sounds dark and dreary, the mechanics of the research and the interaction between D’Agata and Fingal, combined with the influence of a hard-driving editor-in-chief, lend themselves to a provocative theatrical production in “The Lifespan of a Fact.”
It opens at Gloucester Stage Company on Friday, Aug. 30, in its first regional production since closing on Broadway in January.
“The Lifespan of a Fact” chronicles this comedy of conflict. The layered book and subsequent play massage the notion of fact and ponder the need for total accuracy to tell a story.
Adapted from a book of the same name, written by D’Agata and Fingal, the play offers a debate between fact and truth and the literary art form called the essay, which differs from journalism.
“Since antiquity, respected authors have regularly arranged and nudged details to create a closer understanding,” the character of John says in the script, pointing to writers of the past such as Herodotus and Cicero, as well as more recent writers like Thoreau, Orwell and Sontag.
The implications in the play, though, become far more complex than simply fact and fiction. It is fact that in 2002, 16-year-old Levi Presley jumped off the tallest structure in Las Vegas, falling 1,149 feet to his death. It also is fact that D’Agata was in Las Vegas doing research at the time of Presley’s death and that the incident led him to investigate the prevalence of suicide in the neon-filled metropolis.
The question raised in the play becomes: Does D’Agata have this right? — according to Jeremy Kareken, one of the playwrights, along with David Murrell and Gordon Farrell.
“A kid’s life is over, and someone is arguing about the number of strip clubs, and that fascinated us,” Kareken said. “Frequently, comedy comes out of mismatched stakes, and in this case, people are arguing with greater volume about something that is not life or death.”
The world premiere on Broadway starred Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame, Tony Award winner Cherry Jones, and TV and movie actor Bobby Cannavale.
D’Agata and the playwrights all relished the audience reaction to the production.
“There are times we will be in the theater, and we could hear when the audience was on one side or the other, or at other times, the audience was evenly split,” Kareken said. “When we could hear conversations in the restaurants afterward, that made us the happiest. We love igniting that kind of argument.”
Award-winning Gloucester actress Lindsay Crouse plays the editor in the Gloucester Stage production, which is directed by Sam Weisman.
“Basically, the play puts forth an argument, or a debate, about poetic truth and fact, and, of course, it’s a difficult debate to resolve, and in many ways, it’s unresolvable,” Crouse said. “But the very fact these three people hang in there with each other is worth putting on the stage. It’s funny and it’s moving.”
Joining Crouse in the cast are Mickey Solis as the author and Derek Speedy — a recent Harvard graduate no less — as the fact checker. Speedy also knows humor well, as he was a four-year cast member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals in Cambridge.
“The Lifespan of a Fact” runs through Sept. 22 at Gloucester Stage, 267 E. Main St. For more information and tickets, visit www.gloucesterstage.com or call the box office at 978-281-4433.
Gloucester Block Party finale Friday
The last Gloucester Block Party of the summer takes place Friday, Aug. 30, from 6 to 10 p.m. along Main Street in downtown Gloucester.
A portion of Main Street will be closed to allow for the festivities, children’s activities, live music, street performers, dining alfresco and other events.
For more information, visit www.gloucesterblockparty.com.
Schooner Festival fun at the Beauport
Take in this Saturday night’s Schooner Festival fireworks from Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, at 75 Eastern Point Blvd., Gloucester. The historic waterfront estate will be hosting a viewing party starting at 7 p.m.
Guests can watch the show from the terrace or lawn, as well as enjoy an abridged evening tour of the residence. The event is intended for adults and children over age 12. Bring blankets, chairs, picnics and mosquito spray.
Admission is $12 for Historic New England members and $20 for nonmembers.
On Sunday, view the Schooner Festival’s Parade of Sail at Beauport starting at 10:30 a.m. Coffee and a light breakfast will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bring blankets or chairs and other refreshments, if preferred. House tours will not be available.
Admission is $10 for Historic New England members and $15 for nonmembers.
Registration is required for both events. Visit www.historicnewengland.org or call 978-283-0800.
Plein Air Paint Out and Wet Paint Sale
North Shore Arts Association will hold a Plein Air Paint Out and Wet Paint Sale on Saturday, Aug. 31, from 2 to 5 p.m. at its galleries at 11 Pirates Lane, Gloucester.
In what will be a fast-paced endeavor, artists will set up and paint any Gloucester location of their choosing between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Then, the public is invited for a reception with the artists, during which their freshly painted works will be for sale. Awards will be announced at 3 p.m.
The arts association currently has more than 600 original works of art on display and for sale. It is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information on the plein air event or about the association, visit www.nsarts.org.
Extended hours at Cape Ann Museum
Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St., Gloucester, is extending its hours on Thursdays, Aug. 29, Sept. 26, Oct. 24 and Nov. 21, until 9 p.m. to allow visitors more time to view its special exhibition, “Homer at the Beach.”
The show features many related programming options, including illustrated talks, musical performances, art-making opportunities and more. Visit www.capeannmuseum.org for details.
Canadian sculptor at Ocean Alliance
Matthew Trueman, a Canadian sculptor and video artist, is working on-site at Ocean Alliance, 32 Horton St., Gloucester, as the Goetemann environmental/installation artist.
Trueman studied mechanical engineering and completed his Master of Fine Arts at Western University in Canada. A resident of London, Ontario, he integrated his woodworking skills to establish an environmentally responsible furniture business called Joined Habitat.
He will give an opening talk on Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson St., Gloucester. His closing talk will be on Thursday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. at Ocean Alliance.
For more information, visit www.rockyneckartcolony.org.
Paul Taylor 2 returning to Windhover
The Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company — known for its “athleticism, musicality and creative ideas to bear on choreography” — returns to Windhover in Rockport for its annual visit from Sept. 4-8.
The company will participate in morning master classes of all levels, plus two open rehearsals where attendees can learn how to interpret a dance based on images.
On Friday, Sept. 6, and Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m., the entire company will perform Paul Taylor’s choreography at Windhover’s outdoor stage, weather permitting. The performance will move inside in the event of inclement weather.
For more information, visit www.windhover.org or call 978-546-3611.
Around Cape Ann is a column devoted to events happening on Cape Ann and artists from Cape Ann performing elsewhere. If you would like to submit an item, contact reporter Gail McCarthy at 978-675-2706 or firstname.lastname@example.org, at least two weeks in advance.