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Broadway’s ‘Lifespan of a Fact’ premieres at Heartland Theatre – and that’s a fact

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Heartland Theatre
Heartland Theatre Company presents "The Lifespan of a Fact" Feb. 2-18.

Director, theater educator and Chicagoan Tom Dzurison makes his Heartland Theatre debut with “The Lifespan of a Fact,” opening Feb. 2 at the Normal venue. But Dzurison is certainly no stranger to this town — he’s had his eyes set on directing at Heartland for years.

While serving as theater director for three decades at Oak Lawn Community High School, Dzurison often weekended in Bloomington-Normal, seeing theater with friends while in town.

“We attended many shows at Heartland,” said Dzurison, who currently maintains an apartment in Chicago’s South Loop and owns a condo in downtown Bloomington.

“I really appreciated the focus that this theater took,” he said, recalling a friend who stepped out after a performance, leery of the dreaded post-show talkback.

“I went back out and said, ‘You’ve got to come in here and listen to these people. The audience is incredible,'” Dzurison said. “They’re smart; they’re with it. This was better than a New York talkback.”

Uniquely, directors pitch themselves to Heartland’s productions — not the other way around. Eager to direct for the company, Dzurison specifically wanted to work on “The Lifespan of a Fact.”

“I saw this show several years ago in New York,” Dzurison said.

John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s 2012 book of the same name was adapted for the stage by Jeremy Karekan, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell in 2018. The production — with an all-star cast of Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale — gave over 100 performances at Studio 54 on Broadway before closing in January 2019.

“This play is so unique,” Dzurison said. “It tackles a subject that we are going through right now: What is a fact? Now, it takes it in a different route than a stolen election… it goes into the aspect of writing.”

The plot centers on a highfalutin writer — a self-proclaimed "essayist" — who submits a sensational story to a struggling publication. A young Harvard grad is tasked with fact-checking the article and finds very little of it is true.

“Not only did I think it was relevant and timely,” said Dzurison, “but it was so damn funny.”

Though based on true events, the play takes artistic liberties that veer from what really happened (how meta).

“To make this an entertainment, they really did befuddle the Jim Fingal character. They made him kind of a dope,” he said. “They created him as a really pushy person. That’s what I feel you have to do in theater. You’ve got to find the entertainment value in these serious themes.”

But Dzurison has coached the actors to play it straight. He wants the characters and story to feel realistic and not too “theater-y.”

With just three roles in the play, “The Lifespan of a Fact” is not often produced by community theaters that tend to want to put as many people on stage as possible. Dzurison said the small cast affords him the luxury of diving deep with each actor and the production’s three understudies.

“You never get a small cast like this,” he said. “The fact that Heartland is going to take a risk to do this is incredible. …For the acting alone, it’s worth it to see it.”

“The Lifespan of a Fact” runs Feb. 2-18 at Heartland Theatre, 1110 Douglas St., Normal. A special performance featuring the show’s three understudies takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 . Tickets are $17 at heartlandtheatre.org.

The Normal Public Library will host an inside look at “The Lifespan of a Fact” at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 23 at the library. Director Tom Dzurison, designers and library staff will be on hand to answer questions. Also, WGLT’s Charlie Schlenker will be part of a panel discussion at the theater following the Feb. 12 matinee. Both events are free.

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Lauren Warnecke is a part-time reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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