The Time of Your Life

by William Saroyan
Los Angeles Times

THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE’: Harry (Nick Rogers) and Joe (Robb Derringer) in the Pacific Resident Theatre staging of William Saroyan’s play.

In some cosmic synergy, William Saroyan’s Pulitzer-winning 1939 play, “The Time of Your Life,” was produced at about the same time Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” was published. Superficially similar but thematically antithetical, the dramas, both set in seedy taverns, capture America on the defining cusp of World War II.

In the intervening decades, the toweringly despairing O’Neill has gained in stature, while Saroyan, with all his sentimentality, has become arguably marginalized. In the current production of “The Time of Your Life” at Pacific Resident Theatre, the reasons for Saroyan’s eclipse are all too evident.

An odd hybrid of the caustic and the corny, “Time” brims with sappy clichés — the innocent whore, the wisely omniscient boozer. Yet any work of art must be judged in the context of its day. With its profusion of rich eccentrics, Saroyan’s character-driven play broke the mold of the standard linear drama and prefigured the American theater’s segue into alternative forms.

In an immensely ambitious staging, director Matt McKenzie scales down Saroyan’s sprawling yarn to a small stage yet maintains the propulsive quality of the often helter-skelter narrative. Norman Scott’s deceptively cozy barroom set neatly accommodates the requirements of the large cast. Sarah Zinsser’s painstaking costumes contribute to the period ambience, as do Alexander Enberg’s sound and Michael Redfield’s lighting — both excellent.

Capable Robb Derringer holds center court as Joe, the mysterious and wealthy boozer who fuels the action with infusions of cash and sympathy. Shiva Rose is fittingly wistful as a hooker redeemed by the love of Tom (beautifully nuanced Matt McTighe), Joe’s dim but trusty functionary. Guided by choreographer Sarah Elgart, Nick Rogers nails the difficult role of Harry, the wannabe star who dances soulfully in the background throughout. Other standouts include Christopher Shaw as the tough but nurturing bar owner, and Lee De Broux as a battered old adventurer whose hilariously unlikely yarns don’t detract from his innate nobility.–

F. Kathleen Foley

“The Time of Your Life,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 1. $20-$25. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Hilarious but too sophomoric

Pacific Resident Theater