Jay Mack as Jim, Denise Poirier as Emily and Mark Rubin as John in “The Lifespan of a Fact.” Photo by Steve Underwood

Is it fact or fiction? Real or fake? And who decides? Those are certainly prominent questions in today’s world.

“The Lifespan of a Fact,” the 20th-season opener from Portland’s Good Theater, offers audiences an excellent opportunity to dig a little deeper into big questions of truth and accuracy while also enjoying witty dialogue delivered by a well-chosen cast of two seasoned veterans and a rising star.

Directed here by Steve Underwood, who also did the New York-to-Vegas set design, the 2018 play was authored by no less than three writers (Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, Gordon Farrell), working from a book by two others (John D’Agata, Jim Fingal). But, judging by this Maine premiere production, breaking the too-many-cooks rule can lead to an entertaining and thought-provoking time at the theater.

Compared to the number of authors, the cast of local actors is rather small. But the trio, despite just a bit of a struggle with some tongue-twisting dialogue early on opening night, had by the second act managed to create an extraordinary ensemble performance that brought the play vividly to life.

Denise Poirier plays major magazine editor Emily, who is under pressure to send to press an important essay by renowned author John, played by Mark Rubin. Emily assigns intrepid young fact-checker Jim, played by Jay Mack, to give a careful but quick perusal of the piece.

Unfortunately, for the editor and writer, Jim is annoyingly thorough at his job and soon uncovers many inaccuracies and perhaps even fabrications in the essay. He strongly believes these cannot be ignored despite the piece’s overall high quality, upon which all agree.


Mack’s Jim, a recent Harvard grad, is initially ingratiating but soon becomes an unwavering thorn in the side for the others. His, some might say, fussy insistence on the truth of the many factual assertions in the essay ruins, the author believes, the accumulating power of the piece. Mack balances his character’s youthful idealism with very well-timed physical and verbal comedy. His Jim is a little goofy but far from dumb.

Questions arise about the point at which an author, taking liberties with the facts in the service of aesthetic values of mood, tone and rhythm, goes too far and thereby threatens the integrity, credibility and, not unimportantly, legal liability of all involved.

Rubin’s crusty author feels he’s not interested in “arbitrary principles” but rather to the overall truths he hopes to uncover. His frustrations with Jim and Emily are, with one exception, more often sarcastically conveyed than directly expressed. The actor nicely gets at the fragile brilliance within his character’s eccentricities.

Poirier, whose character Jim refers to as “Mama,” ably represents a frazzled but undaunted version of a thoughtful person who has lived perhaps too long in a world full of big egos, small compromises and hard deadlines.

The questions are unsettling. But the laughs are soothing in this season starter from Good Theater.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.