By William Saroyan
Directed by Lisa Brailoff
Chain Lightning Theatre Co.
Cornelia Connelly Center
220 E. 4th St. (219-2085)
Equity showcase (closes November 15)
Review by Adrienne Onofri
Decades before bumper stickers urged us to practice random acts of kindness, William Saroyan promulgated the philosophy in The Time of Your Life, the 1939 play for which he won--and rejected--the Pulitzer Prize. In a prologue to the play, Saroyan counseled: "Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed." And that is what most of the characters in The Time of Your Life do, despite their mediocre prospects. Yet for such an optimistic play, the Chain Lightning revival seemed oddly downcast. The pacing was not sharp enough and the characters not animated enough to mitigate the play's ponderous length.
The Time of Your Life takes place in a low-rent bar on San Francisco's waterfront, a setting reproduced in fine detail by designer Meganne George (who also did nice work designing the costumes). Avant garde for his day, Saroyan presents several intersecting storylines instead of a single, linear one. His play is a slice of life rather than a discrete episode in it; thus, the message is as important as the action. But the cast was more effective on a mechanical level than an allegorical one. The actors conveyed the appropriate emotions and demeanor for their characters but failed to capture the spirit of the play. For example, as Willie, a young man who pours nickels into a pinball machine he was warned could not be beaten, Lance Olds expressed joy upon finally winning but did not evoke the character's symbolism as a pioneer challenging destiny. Two other roles with symbolic significance were also underplayed. As Blick, an autocratic vice cop who represents the power of evil, Miguel Parga could have been nastier; Brandee Graff, playing a prostitute, showed sorrow but not the sass that makes her character an emblem of the power of hope.
There was good work here from the large, mostly male cast. Duncan M. Rogers was a genial Nick, the bar owner who wears a tough veneer but is unable to turn away any of the lost souls who come to him for a job. The low-key performance of Munro M. Bonnell was consistent with the ambiguity surrounding the central character, Joe, a heavy drinker who epitomizes Saroyan's charitable creed. And Tony Butler was fittingly befuddled as Joe's protégé. Still, Saroyan's message of good will and egalitarianism did not invigorate the production. This was particularly noticeable in the climactic scene, in which the bar regulars fight back against their oppressor, Blick; it simply didn't have the impact it should.
(Also featuring Edmund Day, Karl Herlinger, Spencer S. Barros, Miodrag Mihajlovic, Rob Skolits, David Comstock, Walter Cline, Danny Venezia, Don Juhlin, Laine Valentino, Lori Gibbs, Elizabeth Elson, Laura Porio and Ed Tilghman. Lighting, Scott Clyve; sound, Randy Morrison.)
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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri