Characterized by a kind of Holden Caulfield-like romance, Soulpepper’s production of William Saroyan’s “Time of Your Life” proves idealistic, funny and quietly hopeful. Set in a run-down, nothing-special, San Francisco pub, Saroyan’s play investigates what it means to dream.
Through Joe, a wealthy retiree played by Joseph Ziegler, Saroyan draws out the other characters’ nascent or long-forgotten dreams. Nick, the hard-working bartender played by Derek Boyes, on the other hand, seems to furnish the necessities required to pursue those dreams – whether food for the starving piano player, a stage for the aspiring comic, or champagne for Joe’s inebriated philosophy. Both, in their different ways, enfranchise those around them to realize their ambitions. Saroyan wrote, “[s]eek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed.” Joe and Nick follow very different roads in abiding by this mantra but, by crafting both of these characters and by setting them on the same stage, Saroyan seems to argue that travelling both roads is necessary.
Two superior performances from Kevin Bundy as Tom and Stuart Hughes as Kit Carson make this play memorable while a veritable menagerie of supporting characters contribute additional winning moments. With unfaltering energy, Bundy quickens the pace of this otherwise unhurried show. Genuine, moral and loyal, Tom’s faithful service to Joe proves both reliable and entertaining. Bundy steps naturally into Tom’s shoes. Similarly energetic, Hughes portrayal of a ‘fish-story’ telling, sort-of cowboy is hilarious. His mannerisms, broken conversational style and general physicality provide an excellent foil for Joe’s somewhat morose disposition. Bundy and Hughes are also responsible for two of the best scenes in the show. Bundy, in a challenge with Ziegler’s Joe involving many packs of gum and ever expanding cheeks had the audience near tears with laughter. Likewise, Hughes’ tales to Joe on his first arrival at the bar, interrupted or perhaps complemented by frequent drinks, also proved hysterical.
Ziegler’s performance as Joe also merits praise. An anchor of this show, Ziegler allowed his character to evolve without failing to act as the fulcrum around which the other characters’ lives orbit throughout the show. No easy balance to negotiate, Ziegler ably shoulders the great weight of this theatrical responsibility.
While this show has some fantastic moments, it gets off to a rocky start with some challenging timing that reads as choppy. In the first half, Karen Rae’s performance as Kitty Duval, a depressed prostitute reaches neither the highs nor the lows that would make it exceptional, but Rae’s performance was leagues better in the second half. Brenda Robins’ brief part as a society lady was utterly charming.
With some brilliant moments, stand-out performances and nuanced messages, Soulpepper’s “Time of Your Life” leaves its audience satisfied, entertained and, most importantly, open to new dreams.
Written by Jenn Hood
Jenn Hood loves theatre. She has acted in shows including Ghosts (Henrick Ibsen), Coriolanus (William Shakespeare), Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare), All in the Timing (David Ives) and Death (Woody Allen). As a long-time theatre reviewer for Spotlight, Jenn is thrilled to be a part of the dynamic Toronto theatre scene. Recently she has begun writing joint reviews with her father, Richard Hood, which often require (in the best way) a large glass of wine.