Time of Life

I don’t read movie reviews anymore, at least not before I see a film. I want to experience it for what it is, to be surprised, discover it for myself, not be told what to think about it.

Recently I saw “Open Range,” a Kevin Costner, Robert Duval film. It was a western and I love a good western. The preview trailer I saw, designed by marketers, made it out to be an action film, it was anything but. It was in fact a very good film, a simple, moving story. Unfortunately you’ll have to see it on DVD because in marketing terms, “it didn’t have legs,” it didn’t win its opening weekend with instant and enormous profits.

After I’d seen the film I read Roger Ebert’s review. He quite succinctly explained why the western has become old fashioned. He said it was because the characters have values and act on them. The driving force behind most westerns is from the bible actually, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?” Most films today, action and otherwise, are driven by the force of Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” This notion is sadly becoming the pervasive theme in all facets of life; it is becoming the norm. Look at recent local politics; winning is the only thing. As Plato said, “The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Read the headlines, very little about life, much to do about winning. It’s everywhere, in every crevice of your daily life, it’s in polls and ratings and product packaging. People don’t stand up for their core beliefs much anymore, because they believe winning is all that’s important, it’s the only thing. Fortunately that’s just not true, winning is not the only thing.

Oh, this is not the first time people believed that winning at all costs was of prime importance. There has never been a tyrant in all history that believed otherwise. But the people, the John and Jane Does have more often than not followed their beliefs, lived their lives with value and conviction and character. The people, the little guys have always been stronger for it. It was the little guys with moral fervor who rose up and defeated Hitler, not politicians. It is that inner strength, that passion to stand up for what you believe in that can never be silenced. It is most powerful. It is the foundation of all life.

Twenty-five years ago I discovered William Saroyan’s 1940 Pulitzer Prize winning play, “The Time of Your Life,” one of the best American plays ever written, deeply moving and powerful. “The Time of Your Life” is a play that points to the fact that each moment of your life is important and should not be wasted, but lived fully.

For the past twenty years I have wanted to direct this play, and as I write this I am in rehearsals doing just that. It will open a week from today at the Ghent Playhouse. I am living a dream. I talk often about dreams that drive the people whose stories I tell here, so it is appropriate this play is being brought to life now. It is a play about dreams, about hope, about second chances, about home.

“The Time of Your Life” is set in Nick's Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant and Entertainment Palace at the foot of the Embarcadero, the lousiest dive in Frisco. It is October 1939 near the end of the Great Depression. Lou Gehrig has retired from baseball and Hitler's army just invaded Poland. The Worlds Fair is captivating New Yorkers while a second great war threatens to consume the entire world.

“The Time of Your Life” is a lamenting comic ode to the world’s important nobodies beaten down by the hard times of the depression. “The Time of Your Life” personifies optimism, hope, the power of the second chance, and the value of a life lived fully, even if that life never approaches society's standards for success.

“The Time of Your Life” offers connected glimpses into the lives of a dozen wistful dreamers, pining lonely hearts, and beer hall philosophers who all just happen to inhabit the same place at the same time, in search of the same thing, life. Life is a pretty amazing thing. It is not about lies or cynicism or controlling others or even winning, these are tools that allow us to avoid the living of life. They are the things that keep us from experiencing our true selves and that in turn prevents us from attaining perhaps the greatest of life’s gifts; making honest human connection with the lives our lives touch.

In Saroyan’s words, “Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed. In the time of our life, live - so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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