Stamford Theatre Works, Stamford
Joanna McClelland Glass has written an engaging but not earth-shaking two-character piece based on her real-life experience with Francis Biddle (1886-1968), a Philadelphia lawyer who served in many critical governmental posts. The playwright was once secretary to Biddle, helping him write his memoirs.
“Trying,” as it is titled, is a spirited exchange between two very different people—one at the start of life’s journey, the other at its close. Now on stage at Stamford Theatre Works, it comes to life under Steve Karp’s astute direction, with Paul Falzone and Jane Longenecker in the two roles.
Granted that this is a predictable plot, a familiar theme. We’ve seen many a two-character comedy, where two people parry, spar and gradually learn to respect each other. What enhances this familiar plot is the grace of Glass’s writing, the warmth of the performances, and the pace of Karp’s direction.
As to the story: Sarah, who needs a part-time job, is hired by Biddle’s wife Katherine to work as the irascible old man’s secretary. Initially timid, restrained, and silently suffering under his verbal blows, she gradually learns to hold her own--and in fact to gain the upper hand. Oh so predictably, the two learn to appreciate and, one might even say, love each other.
Along the way we gain an education in contemporary American history—Biddle’s switch from Republican to Democratic loyalty, his many governmental appointments ending with that of Attorney General, and finally his post as senior judge at the Nuremberg trials. This is history which goes down like a spoonful of sugar.
Falzone has the opportunity to create a larger-than-life Biddle. It is, in fact, an exaggerated portrait, but entertaining enough so that he can be forgiven his over-the-top portrayal. “I am in the process of leaving this life!” he insists, as he heaves his body about with an energy that belies his statements. Holding forth non-stop in the opening scenes with a commanding presence and a gravelly voice, he manages to correct his secretary’s grammar, particularly her split infinitives, and to hurl about a good many insults. At the same time, he struggles to maneuver his arthritic body from desk to cot to floor. Longenecker flowers in her role, as she grows up on stage and assumes a position of authority.
In all, an entertaining evening, with a little history thrown in.
-- Irene Backalenick
March 16, 2007