Trying

Written on October 18th, 2005

Trying

Written by Joanna McClelland Glass
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Robert Benson, Anne Ross
Grand Theatre, London
October 18 to November 5, 2005
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Generations are “Trying” to get along

The clash of generations is funny and touching in the Grand Theatre’s latest offering, Trying. It’s a bit of Anne of Green Gables meets Grumpy Old Men (well, Man), which makes for a very interesting and entertaining night out.

Trying is the true story of Francis Biddle, an 81 year old who was once a very powerful man, and his young personal secretary, Sarah Schorr from Saskatchewan. Biddle served as US Attorney General under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later as a judge in the Nuremberg Trials. Sarah is the slightly fictionalized version of the play’s author Joanna McClelland Glass.

Set in 1967, the play introduces Biddle in the final year of his life, as he keeps reminding Sarah. He is incredibly crotchety and very difficult. Sarah quickly learns why the previous secretaries have quit, when she is the recipient of his acidic comments.

Robert Benson’s portrayal of Biddle is excellent. The audience can feel Biddle’s aches and pains in Benson’s voice. His timing is perfect as he stumbles over memory lapses, and hesitates when searching for his once extensive vocabulary. The aging process is apparent and we believe him when he says that his mind goes on vacation or his arthritic hands are painful.

At first, it seemed like Anne Ross was a bit over-the-top with her portrayal of Sarah Schorr. Her bubbly, perky attitude in the first scene was too reminiscent of Anne of Green Gables – Sarah with an “h” was Anne with an “e”, and it didn’t seem appropriate for this story. But her vivaciousness quickly toned down and the character becomes more believable soon enough. We then recognize her as a good Saskatchewan girl – the salt of the earth, and in her own words, “a bugger for work” and “worth her salt”.

Author Joanna McClelland Glass is that Saskatchewan girl and peppers the dialogue with Canadian references. When she wants Biddle to get down to work, Sarah says, “Let’s lace up the skates, and hit the ice!”

Glass’ script is very well written—the talk between the two characters is witty and yet natural. We are never left with the feeling that she has stretched the dialogue to fit in clever comments. The characterizations are full: these are interesting people and we want to know more about them, despite his surliness and her perkiness. The play takes us through a heart-warming journey in their brief relationship. Director Susan Ferley deserves credit for making the rapport palpable.

John Dinning’s set is also realistic, right down to the 1960 vintage grey manual typewriter and dial telephones. The story is set in Biddle’s office, which is located upstairs over his garage in what was once a hayloft. Through the post & beam construction, we see a blue sky filled with puffy white clouds. The cheerful sky lightens up what could be, in parts, a depressing story.

In the end, of course, Biddle dies and a Sarah, in the latter stages of pregnancy, has to clean up his office and distribute his works. The circle of life continues.

Trying continues at the Grand Theatre in London until November 5. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.

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