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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Time of Your Life

With a cast of 19, William Saroyan's 1939 play The Time of Your Life is seldom produced in today's financially strapped theatrical climate. Another problem with the Pulitzer Prize-winning play (Saroyan, a cantankerous sort of man, refused the prize) is that it's an amorphous mood piece, a character study that seldom settles into anything resembling a traditional dramatic form.

The play's strongest suit remains its ripe and resonant language, and American Century Theatre makes the most of Saroyan's words in its heartfelt production. Director Terry D. Kester gives the script a straightforward reading with few frills; the cast is mostly serviceable, with two central standouts.

The audience begins its immersion in the atmosphere of the play - Nick's Saloon, a waterfront dive in 1939 San Francisco - by entering the auditorium through Beth Baldwin's economical set. Baldwin evokes the spirit of the place with a few well-selected set pieces: a mirror that's seen better days behind the bar, an imposing wooden jukebox, a shining pinball machine (in the lingo of the play, a "marble machine") in one corner.

The Time of Your Life

Nick (Joe Cronin), the overbearing proprietor, presides benignly from behind the bar. However, the heart of the play is Joe (Bruce Alan Rauscher), a mysterious man who holds court at a barroom table, sipping champagne and befriending everyone who comes through the door. While Cronin doesn't really transcend the stereotyped aspects of his role, including a thick Italian accent, Rauscher manages to convey Joe's hidden melancholy and unplumbed depths without resorting to flashy "acting" tricks.

That's not to say that show-off acting is out of place in The Time of Your Life. Characters wander in and out of the saloon, making greater or lesser impacts. Each one has a dream: a knockabout dancer (Evan Casey, in a role originated by Gene Kelly) is looking for a break, a down-at-heel man who needs a job (James Foster Jr.) shows unsuspected talent as a pianist, a newsboy (Matthew Aument) reveals he'd rather be a singer. Unfortunately, the near-romance between Kitty Duval (Angela Lahl), the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold, and Tom (Timothy Andrés Pabon), Joe's innocent friend and unpaid servant, doesn't quite work in this production; both performers are sincere enough, but they don't generate heat together.

The tempo is slow and relatively uneventful until Kim-Scott Miller barrels onstage as an excitable old character the other barflies call Kit Carson. He gets the meatiest lines, spinning tall tales of beautiful midgets and herding cattle on a bicycle, and he lights up the stage like a firecracker.

In the final analysis, The Time of Your Life is less than the sum of its parts. Saroyan's message of living fully in the moment is still appealing, but the underlying attitude of American Century's production tends toward respectfulness rather than excitement.

American Century Theatre
The Time of Your Life
September 9th - October 9th
By William Saroyan
Joe: Bruce Alan Rauscher
Nick: Joe Cronin
Tom: Timothy Andrés Pabon
Kit Carson: Kim-Scott Miller
Harry: Evan Casey
Kitty: Angela Lahl
Dudley: Keith Lubeley
Blick, Drunk: Dan Murphy
Krupp: Bill Hensel
McCarthy, Society Man: William Aitken
Arab: Jake Call
Mary, Killer: Valerie Fenton
Lorene, Sidekick: Caroline Jane Angell
Elsie, Sidekick #2: Elizabeth Kauffman
Ma, Society Woman: Paula Phipps
Wesley: James Foster Jr.
Willie: Brent Stansell
Newsboy: Matthew Aument
Anna: Deanna Gowland
Directed by Terry D. Kester
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-553-8782 or www.americancentury.org


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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