Monday, April 4, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Near the end of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life, Joe (Joseph Ziegler), a folk philosopher and philanthropist of sorts and Tom (Kevin Bundy), his not-too-swift gofer get into a contest: who can stuff more pieces of gum in his mouth? The contest is supervised by Kit Carson (Stuart Hughes). The two men keep stuffing gum into their mouths and Kit keeps score. They get to about thirty pieces each and then must speak on the phone. Tom and Joe must take the disgusting wad of gum out of their mouth.

The contest seemed to get the most attention from the audience in this production by Soulpepper now playing at the Young Centre, Toronto. There is some violence and a gun shot at the end but after some 2 hours and forty minutes, you are not in the mood to care about anything.

The Time of Your Life won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1939 and there are no doubt many people who think highly of the play and the current production by Soulpepper directed by Albert Schultz. I do not share that opinion about the play or the production. Both are soporific and whatever underlying virtues the play may have they were not apparent to me.

The play takes place in a bar in San Francisco and is no doubt intended to provide a snapshot of Americana. It has twenty-five characters ranging from sailors to hookers to immigrants, to cops, and high society people. Some of them make brief appearances and some have a lot of time on stage, sleeping.

The main character is Joe who sits at a table day in, day out, drinking champagne, dispensing wisdom and sharing his wealth with others. Nick (Derek Boyes), the bar owner is a decent man who will give work and food to the hungry. Harry (Jeff Lillico) is a would-be comedian who dances and tells jokes in an attempt to get a job.

Then there is Dudley (Gregory Prest) who is madly in love with Elsie (Krystin Pellerin) and, when not sleeping at a table, is phoning her and threatening to kill himself unless she marries him. Willie (Ins Choi) has it even worse: he is supposed to be playing at a marble-game and he sits motionless, crouched over the game for much of the play.

We have Kitty Duval (Karen Rae) the hooker who wants to move on and the brutal cop Blick (Michael Simpson) and the nice cop Krupp (Oliver Dennis). There are others – 25 in all as I said - but there is no point listing them. There are dreamers, hard workers, hard luck stories and all of it adds to very little.

The fact that I do not like the play does not mean that the actors did a bad job. Ziegler portrays Joe as the benign character that Saroyan envisioned and no one can complain about Lillico as the would-be song and dance man. The play may have struck chords in pre-war America that simply do not resonate any more.

This production was initially seen in 2008 and Stuart Hughes and Joseph Ziegler won Dora Awards for their acting. I saw that production and had completely forgotten it. I looked at my review after writing this and noted that I found it awful. Perhaps I have not seen the right production yet.


The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan opened on March 18 and will play until June 15, 2011 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill Street, Toronto, Ontario. 416 866-8666

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