The Time of Your Life at Washington Hall runs through August 25, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.
Another bar joke: An African, a whore, a lovesick man, and a wealthy loafer are at a bar …again; it sounds like a joke but isn’t. It’s the setting for William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life, and is the second of “The Bar Plays” to be performed at the historical Washington Hall. The problem is that this joke isn’t funny. It should have been, but it wasn’t. The storyline is a bit esoteric in five acts (in two hours), and the actors play multiple characters, which only adds to the confusion.
In a rundown bar (using Seattle/Capital Hill landmarks) sits Joe, an affluent man of unknown independent wealth, who drinks champagne and uses his money to manipulate and encourage the other patrons of the bar. The other patrons include Joe’s lackey Tom, a burlesque dancer/hooker Kitty (whom Tom is in love with), a lovesick man Dudley, a comedian Harry and a disenchanted police officer named Krupp are the other main patrons revolving within the bar’s atmosphere. Joe drops money easily for his own amusement and to cover his own personal sorrow and loss. As the night goes on, Joe uses his money and smooth talking to try and encourage each of the other patrons to go out of their comfort zones and try something different. While some of them see life through a different viewpoint, the results are disastrous for others.
The Time of Your Life is considered one of the great classic plays of the 20th Century. It was the first drama to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics Award in 1939. Unfortunately, the director’s choice (Ryan Guzzo Purcell) is confusing. Not only do many of the actors play several roles (not an uncommon thing with a larger cast play), they also sometimes change characters in mid-sentence, which makes the play seem disjointed and confusing. It seems more like acting, or an improv exercise opposed to a mounted production. Each character has a distinguishable tell to inform the audience who they are: Tom wears a “Davey Crocket” hat, Kitty wears a dancehall dress, Krupp wears a badge, but they also add in different characteristic traits for the roles and do not stay consistent with the other interpretations. Changing roles in mid sentence gets confusing, and towards the end of the show it happens very frequently creating a maelstrom of bewilderment. The idea, that everyone can be in any of these situations, is understandable, but happens too frequently to let the audience adapt to each change or frankly, to follow along. The actors do a good job with their roles, each one of them bringing an individual trait to the character they play, but if you blink and miss the ‘exchanging of the hat’ or the ‘passing of the candy box’, it can take a few extra moments to catch up, and that only leaves the audience further behind.
All the actors in the show make a paid living wage (as stated by The Williams Project) and they earn it. The entire cast also performs in the other “Bar Play” being performed, Tennessee Williams’ Small Craft Warnings. The Bar Plays are two separate plays, by two very different authors, where the action (or most of it) is contained to the single setting of a bar. Small Craft Warnings didn’t have the quick-change character exchanges, and is presented more directly than The Time of Your Life. Major kudos goes out to the cast that can alternatively perform such intricate works, along with vastly different characters, and do it well. Ryan Guzzo Purcell directs both plays. While Small Craft Warnings was enjoyable, The Time of Your Life was disjointed. I’ll be looking forward to Mr. Purcell’s next production for a tiebreaker.
The Time of Your Life premiered on Broadway October 25, 1939 and ran for 185 performances. Among the original cast were Celeste Holm and Gene Kelly. A film version was released in 1948. A television-live play version was released in 1958 with Jack Klugman, Jackie Gleason and Dick York.