William Saroyan's Pulitzer Prize-winning play revolves around the denizens of a San Francisco bar in 1939. Lonely, lovelorn, weary or cynical, the characters drift in and out of the bar and each other's lives, giving voice to Saroyan's philosophies as they randomly comment about the impending world war, the beauty of art, and traditional notions of good and evil. At least one of the relationships stands a chance of enduring: a brawny innocent named Tom is falling in love with a vulnerable young prostitute named Kitty. Saroyan himself is heard reciting the play's prologue.
Presented by John Houseman's Acting Company and originally broadcast on PBS, this 1976 production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life was endorsed by the playwright, who provided its voice-over prologue. That's enough to recommend this production, but Saroyan's approval is only one measure of the production's success. Written in 1935 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize (which Saroyan refused to accept), the play captures the mixture of melancholy and hope that emerged between the Great Depression and World War II. Among the denizens of Nick's Bar in San Francisco, Joe (played with rich subtlety by Nicholas Surovy) best embodies the tenacious optimism that Nick's regulars adopt as a defense against a cold, cruel world. They're self-deluding but likable survivors, and Patti LuPone is at her heartbreaking best as two-dollar whore Kitty Duvall. That's 29-year-old Kevin Kline doing fine work in a brief appearance, joining these downtrodden dreamers who, in Saroyan's world, become heroes of the heart. --Jeff Shannon