Among plays set in bars that strive to speak about the human condition in microcosm, William Saroyan’s “The Time of Your Life” serves as a gentle refutation of Eugene O’Neill’s condemnation of pipe dreams and doomed souls, “The Iceman Cometh.” Both were written in 1939, yet Saroyan’s play finds redemption and hope for almost everybody. In the Pacific Resident Theater’s outstanding new production, Matt McKenzie’s meticulously detailed direction and a superb ensemble combine to bring this classic to warmhearted, boisterous life.
Nick (Christopher Shaw) owns a saloon in a less salubrious part of San Francisco, a refuge for streetwalkers and drunks, but he’s an essentially decent man who runs a decent place. For reasons known only to himself, the mysteriously wealthy Joe (Robb Derringer) has taken up daily residence in the bar, serving as a focal point. When sad young hooker Kitty (Shiva Rose) enters, Joe is inspired to try and change her life for the better, introducing her to his younger friend, Tom (Matt McTighe).
Derringer centers the show with a tremendous perf as a man who has clearly been damaged but has chosen not to be broken, someone who understands the negative but opts for the positive. He pulls off all of Saroyan’s sometimes overripe philosophizing, making the conversational query “what’s the dream” seem perfectly natural.
Shaw is bluntly wry as Nick, a good guy in spite of himself, and is so strong in the role that he seems to be the co-lead in the play. McTighe brings winning enthusiasm to the well-intentioned Tom, and Rose is moving as the much-injured Kitty.
Nick Rogers commits admirably to being unfunny as the wannabe comedian Harry but brings an upbeat charm to his character and his dancing. Lee De Broux is thoroughly enjoyable as Kit Carson, a richly over-the-top perf that is an expertly crafted and delightful piece of character work. Dan Kozlowski and Vince Melocchi are both memorably fine, respectively, as the morally conflicted cop Krupp and the longshoreman on strike McCarthy. Dennis Madden, finally, is very funny as the drunkard, whose various toasts become amusingly surreal — “To reforestation!,” for example.
McKenzie keeps the pacing lively without shortchanging the dramatic moments, exploring all the different corners of the saloon and the characters with understated finesse.
Norman Scott’s set evokes its time period effectively, with the working beer tap and pachinko machine adding an appreciable level of realism. Alexander Enberg’s sound design is subtle but wonderful, the most prominent example being the sound of streetcars going by outside the bar at regular intervals.