The Time of Your Life is a classic American play.  It’s terrific, wonderful, rich in comedy, music, dance, vivid characters, feeling, humanity — all that and it has a great sense of place and time, a gritty San Francisco waterfront bar on the eve of World War II.

Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Bar, and Entertainment Palace:  think colorful characters, from the guy sweeping, to Nick himself who comes in to open, to the old guys and young, cripples and musicians, tarts and society dames.  And everybody has a good heart except for Blick, the Cop the puritanical vice hunting cop.  That’s Saroyan — he’s filled with love but he knows the score.

The story centers around Kitty Duval, a street walker with a burlesque past, Joe, the only of Nick’s regulars with money, and Tom, Joe’s not-too-bright errand boy who loves Kitty.  Joe’s a cynic on the outside but tender on the inside, and sees the special human virtues in all the denizens of Nick’s bar, including the inner innocence of Kittty the tart.

Being at Nick’s is like being part of a family — you belong.  Nick gives a chance — and a job — to the Black kid who can’t believe he’s lucky enough to get paid for playing boogie-woogie on the piano.  And Nick finds a place for the dancer/comedian who can’t raise a laugh.  But there’s a snake in the garden of this sweet if seamy Paradise — Blick, the vice cop.  Nick throws him out of the place when he comes hunting “vagrants” and “whores”.  “I’m not breaking any laws,” Nick says.  But Blick “is” the law, and we know he’s going to be back.

Set in a bar which is home to its regulars, and where dreams flourish, the play reminds me a lot of O’Neil’s Iceman Cometh, but The Time of Your Life looks outward rather than inward and is more seated in the American social context and history than in philosophy and psychology.  By the end of Time of Your Life, you feel you’ve seen a full American panorama, played out through lives of individual characters you care about.  The play has an unexpected — and beautifully planted — ending that brings together truth and fantasy¸ realism and hope, in a way I’ll never forget.

The Attic Theater production is appreciative of the play and the play comes through.  Henry Packer is strong and humorous as Kit Carson who has impossible romantic yarns to tell about the early West  — and has that wonderful last word on things — and I loved listening to Rocky Bostick as Wesley on the piano —  but in general the actors are a little youthful and unseasoned for their parts.   You do not get the sense of lives lived in tough circumstances.   But you do get The Time of Your Life, and that’s a lot.

The Time of Your Life plays at the Connelly Theater in Manhattan’s East Village through February 25th, 2012.