Pictured Above: Blocking for NFCT’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” |. photo courtesy Colin Palmer

This spring’s offerings on the stages of the Hampton Theatre Company and the North Fork Community Theatre are a rare chance to see seldom-produced plays don’t shy away from an experience that is all too fresh on all of our minds — the ways in which truth can be mangled.

“The Lifespan of a Fact,” which premiered at Studio 54 in New York City in 2018, is the story of a narrative nonfiction writer’s quest keep a fact checker from removing his attempts to spice up his work. It opens at HTC at the Quogue Community Hall on March 16.

Bertolt Brecht’s seldom-produced “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” is a satirical allegory for the rise of Adolph Hitler, about a mobster attempting to take over the Chicago cauliflower racket. Written in 1941, it wasn’t produced on stage until 1958, after Brecht’s death. It opens at Mattituck’s North Fork Community Theatre March 17.

(l-r): Laurie Atlas as Emily Penrose, Jamie Baio as Jim Fingal and Matt Conlon as John D’Agata in “The Lifespan of A Fact” at HTC.
(l-r): Laurie Atlas as Emily Penrose, Jamie Baio as Jim Fingal and Matt Conlon as John D’Agata in “The Lifespan of A Fact” at HTC |. photo courtesy George Loizides
(l-r): Jamie Baio as Jim Fingal, Laurie Atlas as Emily Penrose and Matt Conlon as John D’Agata in “The Lifespan of A Fact” at HTC |. Dane DuPuis photo for HTC

When Truth Lies Between the Lines

“The Lifespan of A Fact” was the buzz of Broadway in part because of the casting of Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe as the earnest fact checker, when HTC Director George Loizides first saw it in 2018. 

“It was extremely timely — it talks about the difference between what’s factual and what’s truthful and what’s storytelling,” said Mr. Loizides. “As soon as I saw it, I said ‘we have to do this at HTC.’”

“The Lifespan of a Fact” was originally an experimental piece of literature about the seven-year battle between real-life writer John D’Agata, who used the suicide of a young man in Las Vegas as the launchpad for a treatise on the value of human life in a city known for its inhumanity, and his fact-checker, a real-life intern at The Believer magazine named Jim Fingal.

Published in 2012, it was later adapted for the stage by playwrights Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell. 

Hampton Theatre Company has been working to get the rights to produce the three-character play for nearly two years. 

“Three playwrights took a book that comprised seven years and compressed it into 85 minutes, with no intermission,” said Mr. Loizides. “It zips right along, and is funny and timely.”

Part of the reason Mr. Loizides was excited to put up this play at HTC is that he knows the actors in the company well, and could immediately see them in the roles.

Matt Conlon, “a very strong equity actor who I knew would bring the right qualities of the writer to the stage,” will play Mr. Agata, while Jamie Baio will play Mr. Fingal, the fact-checker.

“I’ve known him since he was a boy — he appeared in 2016 in ‘Lost in Yonkers’” at HTC, said Mr. Loizides of Mr. Baio. “I was pretty sure out of the gate that I wanted them.”

He later thought to cast Laurie Atlas, an actress he’d worked with at another theater company, as the editor at the magazine, Emily Penrose, because she had worked in corporate media in the past.

“She’s a feisty woman, and a good match to the other actors,” he said. “She understands the demands on editors, who are in charge of making sure things get done in a hurry.”

Mr. Loizides said that, since diving into the research for this play, he’s become more aware of the structure of print media — straight news and opinion and narrative pieces. 

“An essay like this made the idea of truth something totally different than just the facts,” he said. “It enlightened me.”

“The Lifespan of A Fact” will be performed on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. March 16 through April 2 at the Quogue Community Hall at 125 Jessup Ave. in Quogue. Tickets are $36 for general admission, $31 for seniors and $20 for students under the age of 21, and are available online at hamptontheater.org.

It’s Resistible… Until it Isn’t

“Resistible” is the key word in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” says NFCT Director Colin Palmer. 

“This play shows all the different moments that someone could have stopped him, until in the end, it was inevitable,” he said. “Brecht wrote this play intending it for an American audience. At the time, we were the biggest country that wasn’t involved in World War II. There was a large group of Americans who were isolationists, who called themselves “America First.” They said the Nazis didn’t have anything to do with us. They were Europe’s problem.”

But so-called isolationism was enamored with fascism. At each performance of “Arturo Ui,” Mr. Palmer has gotten the rights to show the 2017 Oscar-nominated short “A Night at the Garden,” a piece of found footage of a 1939 rally of the German American Bund at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where attendees, many dressed in German military uniforms, gave the Nazi salute to a giant painting of George Washington while singing patriotic American songs and praising the white Europeans who waged the American Revolution.

“It’s a difficult subject. Many people may feel uncomfortable, but I think a theater is exactly the place where you have to talk about these things,” said Mr. Palmer.

The director has devoted much of his work on East End stages to Shakespeare, and he drew on his large network of fellow Shakespearian actors for this play, which has a cast of 15.

“It’s difficult to find actors willing to do this kind of play,” he said. “It’s not a bright, fun, happy show. But Brecht advanced the idea of epic theater — so many of his plays take place over long periods of time, with characters you’re not supposed to connect with as individual actors but as representatives of larger communities. He never wanted the audience to forget they were seeing a play. It was his answer to the naturalism of the previous century.”

Brecht and Shakespeare shared faith in many of those elements of theater, and this play, in many ways, is an homage to Shakespeare, written in blank verse, with plots that echo those in Richard III, Macbeth and Hamlet.

“It’s a really great cast, so willing to work with each other and explore things with each other,” said Mr. Palmer. “That’s something that is 100 percent needed with these plays — a really strong cast with a strong sense of ensemble.”          —BHY   

“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. March 17 through April 2 at the North Fork Community Theatre, 12700 Old Sound Ave. in Mattituck. Tickets are $30 and are available online at nfct.com.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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