Irascible old Philadelphia blueblood Francis Biddle spent many of his 81 years in public service, as FDR’s solicitor general and later attorney general, and as judge in the 1945 Nuremberg trials.
Now, feeling “the door (of life) open and the exit light blinking,” Biddle (Doug Waldo) needs help to keep up with correspondence requesting information based on his illustrious career.
Sarah Schorr (Kelsey Venter), 25 and the latest in a long series of secretaries, is waiting to meet him.
Joanna McClelland Glass’ fascinating “Trying,” based on her working relationship with Biddle during the last year of his life, plays through Sept. 25 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, directed by Kerry Meads.
The two are poles apart. While Biddle’s ancestors bought a great deal of what is now New Jersey from William Penn in the late 1600s, Sarah’s (or rather, Glass’) grandparents went to Saskatchewan to homestead; their wagons overshot and they ended up in Alberta. They were lucky to find some dinosaur bones they sold to get the money to get to Saskatchewan. Biddle was born in Paris and went to Harvard; Glass’ mother was illiterate all her life.
Biddle’s tongue is as sharp as his mind once was – which, he points out, has caused several previous secretaries to flee screaming from the job.
Sarah, young and inexperienced, is willing to put up with his lack of tact and dictatorial rules (she is not to touch the heater nor his person, for example), but draws the line at verbal abuse.
He waves casually offstage. "The bathroom is that way," he says. "If I ever cause it, that's where you can go to cry." She informs him that in the event he makes her cry, she will sit right there and let him watch.
This affecting intergenerational dance plays out on Michael McKeon’s wonderfully book-cluttered set, where Sarah must learn to take charge without seeming to and Biddle to trust her motives and surrender control, if ever so gingerly.
Biddle was sad and preoccupied in his last year with his two greatest losses: he had never known his own father, and he lost a son at the age of 7.
Venter’s Sarah navigates a careful path around Biddle's wall of sadness and fear masked by thoughtless comments.
Biddle is poignant, funny, annoying and fascinating in turns (sometimes seemingly all at once), thanks to Glass’ fine script and Waldo’s excellent interpretation.
Venter is a worthy collaborator (and occasional opponent), diplomatic but firm, willing to hear his repeated complaints but determined to clean up Biddle’s cluttered desk and straighten out his mess of a checkbook.
Lamb’s offers us a riveting look at an unusual relationship in which both characters are trying, in both senses of the word.
“Trying” plays through Sept. 25 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado.
Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 4 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
For tickets call (619) 437-6000 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.