Reviewed by Robin Breon
When the world is in peril and depression looms large, one needs the voice of a playwright who calls out for hope, life, optimism and the lightness of being. So three cheers for Albert Schultz and the Soulpepper Company for choosing to stage William Saroyan's evocation of the good side of our nature, The Time of Your Life. And Schultz is literally the only theatre director in this city that has the company with the talent and resources necessary to stage a broad canvas production that just makes it look so easy to bring twenty four actors unto the stage to tell their story.
We can only imagine the spiritual uplift audiences must have experienced when the play premiered in 1939. The barroom setting is appropriate in that it was only six years earlier - in the middle of a depression - that President Franklin D. Roosevelt took on the pietistic Anti-Saloon League and other Christian fundamentalist forces of his day by signing a bill legalizing beer and wine which for the first time since Prohibition was enacted in 1920 allowed people to have a sociable, legal drink. And drink they do in The Time of Your Life, and chew gum and tap dance and tell tall tales so that by the end of the evening one understands why some plays are called "classics" of the stage.
Schultz followed his good decision in choosing the play by casting it impeccably. Joe Ziegler is perfect as the lovable philosopher/rentier known only as Joe who is embodied by a noble spirit and a sensitive heart. From his perch in Nick's bar (with Nick played by the equally sympathetic Derek Boyes) they watch the world come through the swinging double doors: the ladies of the night, the bourgeois, the kid who's looking to break into show business, the unemployed musician. Even a man who calls himself Kit Carson.
Saroyan is in no hurry to let the story unfold and neither is Schultz. The play just seems to pull you into its embrace and refuses to let go until the very end. To say that Stuart Hughes is terrific as Kit Carson is almost unfair in that I don't believe the role allows an actor the possibility of failure. Patricia Fagan plays the prostitute Kitty Duval and poignantly shows us the complexity of alienation and failed ambition as does the youthful showbiz comer Harry (Jeff Lillico) who is ambitious enough to believe he's still on the way up.
And by the way, absolutely none of this beautiful symmetry inherent in the play and articulated by Schultz's fine direction could have been possible without the spot on casting of jazz pianist Denzale Sinclaire who effortlessly acts and plays his way through the show with a grace and style that provides exactly the right ambience.
I could continue to mention all of the actors in this first rate ensemble and probably should but suffice it to say when such strong actors play the smaller roles - as only a true repertory company can do - it makes for a very strong production.
Today's times are indeed dark. "No foundation all the way down the line", says the Arab man (Mike Ross) who anchors one end of Nick's bar throughout the entire play. Thank god for Saroyan whose voice continues to call out to us and ask if anyone is still awake at the wheel.