The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Time of Your Life opens on an afternoon at Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant, and Entertainment Palace. Nick is behind the bar and Joe is sitting at his table close to the center, stage left, when Willie enters and starts playing a pinball machine, stage right; he will continue to play silently until he beats the apparatus in act 5. A newsboy arrives and sells all of his papers to Joe, who carelessly throws them away and starts whistling for his man, Tom.

Three years before, Joe’s money saved Tom from sickness and starvation; now, Tom runs absurd errands for Joe. This time, he is ordered to “buy . . . a couple of dollars’ worth of toys and bring them here.” As Tom drops Joe’s nickel in the bar’s phonograph, Kitty Duval appears and Joe coaxes her to his table. While she sips his champagne and tells him of her shattered dreams of becoming a burlesque star, Nick’s place fills with people. Among them are the lovesick Dudley, who tries to call his bride from the bar’s telephone and gets mixed up with her roommate; Harry, a comedian who awaits discovery while performing at Nick’s; and Wesley, a young black pianist who faints of hunger before Nick’s food restores him so that he can play at night.

When Kitty asks Joe for a dance, he tells her that he “can’t” but offers her Tom, who has returned with Joe’s toys, and gives him five dollars to spend on her. Tom exits with Kitty, professing his love for her. Now, everybody is happy, or at least free from pain, at Nick’s. This changes as Blick from the Vice Squad enters; as Nick says, “he’s no good. . . . He hurts little people.” Blick threatens Nick for his laissez-faire attitude toward prostitutes and promises to return at night.

Act 2 opens with Joe trying to guess the name of “M.L.” from the initials on her handbag. He gets as far as “Mary L.,” and her questions allow Joe to present his philosophy—that is, to stay drunk in order to “live all the time” and avoid the “twenty-three and a half . . . dull, dead, boring, empty, and murderous” hours of the day. Joe is also on a quest “to find out if it’s possible to live what I think is a civilized life. I mean a life that can’t hurt any other life.” Their time together ends when the married Mary, after being stood up by Joe for a dance, gets up and leaves after Joe has confessed...

(The entire section is 974 words.)