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THEATER REVIEW : Play Can't Offer Time of Your Life


Whether William Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life" is treated as fantasy or naturalism--both viable approach es--it exists in its own special world, a microcosm wherein fable becomes reality and reality, fable. To break the skin of this bubble exposes the playwright's touching intellectual naivete and shatters the gentle grace notes of his poetry.

By allowing some of his actors to speak directly to the audience in this Group Repertory Production, turning lines of dialogue into bits of narration, director Bert Rosario breaks the bubble and might make a first-time viewer wonder why the play won the Pulitzer Prize.

Saroyan's view of a world falling apart in the late '30s is clouded by this approach and other toying that Rosario has visited upon the script, such as a very funny but old-hat vaudeville drunk routine by Jeff Davis that takes up too much time and distracts from Saroyan's rhythms.

Lonny Chapman, who directed and appeared in a superlative version of the play in the early '80s at Group Rep, returns in the role of Joe, the mysterious capitalist who has dedicated his life to simple pleasures and providing pleasure for simple people. Chapman doesn't seem as involved in Saroyan's world as Joe must be, and as he was in that previous incarnation. He is the catalyst that holds the gossamer tale together, but here Joe just watches.

The panoply of characters inhabiting the San Francisco waterfront saloon, where the action is set, appears as turns, rather than as threads in Saroyan's canvas. But Skip Parry is excellent as Joe's willing subject Tom, just dense enough and just bright enough to accept Joe's outlandish orders.

As Kitty Duval, the hooker who wants a better life, Liz Porter has a touching vulnerability beneath her streetwise exterior. Ronna J. Levy also gives a strong performance as Elsie, girlfriend of clunky Dudley (Van Boudreaux), who isn't on Elsie's cynical wavelength.

Larry Eisenberg's Kit Carson gets all the expected laughs without providing any surprises, and Mary Ann Miller is delightful as talentless comic dancer Harriet.

Most of the other supporting actors don't have any more of a handle on Saroyan's style than director Rosario.

Where and When What: "The Time of Your Life." Location: Group Repertory Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. Hours: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 21. Price: $8 to $10. Call: (818) 769-7529.

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