The Time Of Your Life
by Willard Manus
The late William Saroyan won a 1940 Pulitzer Prize for THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE, a barroom play which Pacific Resident Theatre has revived in honor of the hundreth anniversary of Saroyan's birth (in Fresno, California). The three-hour-long work has 27 characters but no plot whatsoever, just a lot of boozy talk and humor, with an underpinning of menace and dread.
Set in 1939 in Nick's Pacific Street Saloon and Entertainment Palace (on the San Francisco waterfront), THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE unfolds at a crucial time in American history, when the Depression was in full swing and world war in the offing. There were plenty of reasons to feel angry and downbeat, but Saroyan, famed for the humanism and sunniness of his work (even though he personally was a spiteful and intolerant man, a rabid anti-semite), opted to "smile on the infinite delight and mystery of life."
Thus Nick, the proprietor of the saloon (Christopher Shaw), is a good guy who feeds the homeless, gives showbiz wanna-bees (Will Rothaar, Nick Rogers) a chance to strut their stuff, puts out the welcome mat for streetwalkers (Shiva Rose, Sarah Zinsser, Rebecca Crandall) and gamblers (Norman Scott) alike. In short, he turns his dive into a home for all the lost, downtrodden souls out there in the cold, uncaring world--a world which one of the bar's denizens (J. Steven Markus) describes, in a famous line, as having "no foundation, all the way down the line."
Nick's soul brother is Joe (Robb Derringer), a handsome, well-dressed but mysterious chap who sits center stage throughout the play, sipping champagne, making occasional horse-race bets, and dispensing words of hope and wisdom to those in need. In a second-act revelation we learn that he was once a successful but ruthless businessman who wrecked countless lives in his fight to become wealthy and powerful. Now he hangs out in Nick's, doing penance for his sins by sticking up, as best he can, for the little guy.
Society's evil is represented by a vice-squad cop, Blick (William Lithgow), whose cruelty is only matched by his self-righteousness. Blick barges in regularly with blackjack in hand, looking to teach sinners and lawbreakers a bloody lesson. It remains for Joe and a surprising ally, a crusty, beer-swilling old sourdough, Kit Carson (Lee De Broux), to give Blick his comeuppance.
Kenneth Tynan once described THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE as "charmingly aimless" and it is just that, a pleasant but meandering play from a bygone theatrical age. It's easy, though, to see why a company like PRT would want to mount it: it offers juicy roles to its members, all of whom can dress up in raffish period costumes (well-chosen by Sarah Zinsser) and act accordingly.
Skillfully directed by Matt McKenzie and ably produced by Matthew Solari, THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE will run through June 1 at PRT, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Call 310-822-8392 or visit pacificresidenttheatre.com.