William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life opened on Broadway on October 25, 1939, to mixed reviews. Many in the general public enjoyed the play, but the critics were less enthusiastic. In contrast to many of the playwrights working during the later years of the Great Depression, Saroyan was not interested in social protest; his play depicts a group of alienated loners in a shabby waterfront bar, looking for love and meaning in their lives. The play won the 1940 New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Despite these awards, many critics felt that the play was unsophisticated, unrealistic, and too romantic, failing to reflect the dark and troubled times in which it was set; some found it confusing. Saroyan was rarely a darling of the critics and maintained a strained relationship with the East Coast theatrical world throughout most of his career. Much of his attitude came from that fact that he distrusted those who were highly educated and felt that the intelligentsia could not appreciate his plays and their simple messages.
The play takes place in 1939, just before the start of World War II. The play is presented in five acts over the course of a day in October 1939. The five acts are set primarily in a seedy San Francisco waterfront bar, through which numerous colorful but distressed characters move in their search for something more out of life than what they have. The action centers on Joe, a rich young man who does not have to work any longer and can spend most of his time drinking, doing small favors for people, and sending his simpleminded friend, Tom, on crazy errands. People enter the bar and interact with Joe; Nick, the bar’s Italian immigrant owner; and one another. The tension in the play appears toward its end when Blick, a spiteful vice cop, returns to the bar to make trouble for Nick and a sad prostitute named Kitty Duval.