Judge Francis Biddle, former US Attorney General under Franklin Roosevelt and Chief American Judge at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, is the octogenarian and cantankerous curmudgeon in question.
His health is deserting him and his sense of his imminent demise is all too sharp.
He decides he needs a secretary to support him in running his household and to help in his international correspondence, in the wrapping up of loose ends.
It’s a challenging job for anyone to live up to his demands but Sarah Schoor, an inexperienced Canadian, steps into the wake left by a string of weeping women who deserted the post. Biddle immediately distrusts her and despairs at her amateur methods before lunch is served. However, unlike the other secretaries Sarah has a bit more pluck and puts Biddle in his place.
Interestingly, Trying is written by the real-life former secretary of Judge Biddle, Joanna McClelland Glass. The resulting portrait of the relationship is honest and respectful but without erring towards sentimentality.
However, perhaps in trying to under-write her role, so as not to appear vain, Glass has unwittingly made Sarah an automaton and sounding board for Biddle rather than a fully-fledged character in her own right.
As a result fresh-faced, Quebecan Meghan Popiel’s work doesn’t shine as brightly as it could. The brief glimpses we are given of her personality, her struggling marriage and her pregnancy, are thinly expressed and seem shoehorned in for good measure. It must be a feat to make any stronger impression next to Michael Craig, an accomplished veteran of stage and screen. He gives a splendid performance as the judge moving from lucidity to senility and evoking sympathy and laughter with ease. It is through his irascible nagging over split infinitives and ostentatious privilege and elitism the relationship blossoms on stage.
Despite being set in the turbulent late sixties (the play starts in 1967 and ends in June 1968) discussion of dramatic events, such as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the realignment of gender roles or the Vietnam War, are only ever briefly addressed. The tickling line never again will I trust that mystic cliche military necessity”, is so relevant to today’s crises it seems a shame to let the politics go.
But this is not a political play and the extra room allows Glass’s soft suggestion, that the exit of old ways and beginning of the new, to be heard. It is the foundation of the play; the message that one cannot exist without the other and that this symbiosis can lead to success. Sarah wants to become a writer Biddle shows her that she can be: Glass has written well.