UIC Theatre ends season with optimistic classic

Yasen Peyankov (center) directs (L-R) Mikey Saubert, Quincey Krull and Trace Hamilton in “The Time of Your Life,” opening Friday. Photo: Benjamin Ponce

The UIC Theatre will end its season with an uplifting classic: William Saroyan’s Pulitzer-winning “The Time of Your Life.”

Yasen Peyankov, head of theatre studies, will direct the play. As an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, he played Nick in Steppenwolf’s 2002 production in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, Saroyan’s hometown.

His role gave him a director’s perspective by allowing him to absorb all the characters’ stories just as a real bar owner might — “in the therapist’s role, without being judgmental,” he says.

“The Time of Your Life” is set in Depression-era San Francisco in a waterfront dive, Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon.

When the play premiered in 1939, it evoked optimism through the bar’s eccentric denizens: a beleaguered cop, striking longshoremen and a frustrated dancer turned prostitute; several characters out of their time and place, like an Eastern philosopher and Kit Carson; and the central character, the mysteriously wealthy Joe, who indulges his whims and tries to put wayward lives back on track.

Peyankov finds that student actors born about 50 years after the Depression connect with the characters on their own level, in part because America again faces high unemployment, out-of-control capitalism and war.

“It’s been amazing to hear it sound so fresh, rolling so naturally out of their mouths,” he says. “They’ve embraced the plight of the characters and they give ultra-truthful performances.

“The play has an unmistakenly American spirit of pulling together as a group through hard times. In that sense, it’s a great piece of ensemble theatre that we have the talent to pull off really well.”

The set will express the bar-as-therapy idea, with a WPA-style mural and lighting that shows the scene through Joe’s eyes. Outside Nick’s, concrete, steel and the real look of the UIC Theatre represent the realm of a raging labor strike.

“The contrast will be reflected in the warm, earthy tones of the bar setting and the industrial-looking elements of our theater,” Peyankov says. “If the outside world is one of strife, the bar is one of peaceful coexistence and understanding.”

He points to a paragraph that begins the written form of the play: “In the time of your life, live … Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.”

The lines are not spoken in most productions.

“They will be in mine,” Peyankov says. “That’s kind of the play in a nutshell.”

Performance times are April 19, 20, 25, 26, and 27 at 7:30 p.m.; April 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.; and April 24 at noon. All performances are in the UIC Theatre, 1044 W. Harrison St.

Tickets are $11 to $16 and may be purchased at the box office or online.

For information, call the UIC Theatre, 312-996-2939.


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