Opening the fall season at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey with William Saroyan’s rarely produced comedy-drama, “The Time of Your Life,” director Paul Mullins has successfully harnessed the erratic rhythm of a rambling, outdated narrative that clearly creaks at the seams, but, nonetheless, provides a colorful collage of characters. Mullins has assembled a cast of thesps who fully realize the hopes and dreams of the denizens inhabiting Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon on the 1930s San Francisco waterfront.
The 1939 play has the rare distinction of being the first to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics’ Circle Award, although the playwright refused the former on the grounds that awards are debilitating to the recipient.
An ensemble piece, “The Time of Your Life” examines an odd collection of eccentric lovers and losers acted out upon a broad, colorful canvas.
Andrew Weems plays Joe, a wealthy, champagne-guzzling philosopher who harbors a certain insight into the pitiful roomful of losers. Weems portrays his character with a breezy air of pointed indifference, but falls short of his required weariness and appears a tad too glib in his compassionate observations.
Others who frequent the bar include: bartender Nick (fully drawn by Gregory Derelian), who finds cause to bully his patrons; Kitty (Sofia Jean Gomez), a two-dollar tart with a heart of gold; and Harry (unnervingly drawn by Blake Hackler), an unsuccessful goofy hoofer and worse comic.
Keenest character study is that of the grizzly hobo cowpoke Kit Carson (Edmond Genest), whose shaggy dog tales summon the play’s funniest moments.
Michael Mungiello drops in much too frequently as a lyric tenor newsboy, while Ned Noyes nicely essays the role of the errand boy, and Allison Daugherty is attractively forlorn as the elusive alcoholic lawyer’s wife.
Also in the mix are Paul Meshejian in an excellent cameo as a shuffling, disillusioned old bar hound, and a restlessly jumpy romantic played by Salvatore Cacciato.
Despite the dated weaknesses of the play itself, Mullins’ staging is clean, direct and finely detailed with a clear and well-pointed focus on the characters.
James Wolk’s atmospheric set is so well-done you can almost smell the stale beer. Lora LaVon has garbed the players in the appropriate togs of the late ’30s, and Michael Giannitti’s lighting makes it all look like an old, faded magazine photo.