"Trying," a Triumph of the Ages
You don’t often see plays that deal with growing old and crotchety, let alone those striving to save the English language. But "Trying," by Joanna McClelland Glass, at the Colony Theatre, does just that and more, using intelligent, humorous dialogue as a vehicle. In a play that is quite literally based on the real-life experiences of the playwright, it details life’s simplest of struggles, both growing old and growing up.
It’s 1967. Growing old and crotchety is the world-renowned ex-judge at the Nuremburg trials and attorney general under FDR, Francis Biddle. The one growing up is the latest young secretary he’s hired to help write his memoirs and catch up on correspondence, Sarah Schorr - the feisty "prairie populist" from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
At a time when most women were burning their bras, denouncing marriage, and railing against the stereotype of women aspiring to be no more than secretaries, Schorr, a "bugger for work," takes on the Harvard elitist geezer Biddle. Yes, she is married, and she is a secretary, but she is no shrinking violet. She is not about to end up in the bathroom crying like the other failed secretaries before her. No, she’s willing instead to admit her marriage isn’t making her happy, openly using her secretarial position to actually get ahead, by choosing the ex-judge specifically for the knowledge she can glean from him. She is a young woman with a mission.
Such was the real life experience of Glass, which accounts for the intelligence with which her characters are drawn. Joanna McClelland Glass actually did work for Biddle in 1967. And with the exacting direction of Cameron Watson (he makes a silent walk up stairs speak volumes), and the actors’ obvious natural abilities, "Trying" is a triumph. Alan Mandell wraps his sinewy yet arthritic fingers around the part of Biddle and clings on for dear life, as Rebecca Mozo grabs hold of the role of Schorr with every ounce of precise determination to make the assured upstart ring true, and together they grasp our attention. The design team puts the final touches on a solid production. Victoria Proffitt’s set and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s costumes are perfectly of the period, without seeming stale and mildewed. With a tug on her top, it’s as if we are presently in 1967, and Schorr just proudly purchased her pink ensemble off the rack with her first paycheck.
If you get nothing more from "Trying," you will walk out knowing once and for all what a split infinitive is. But you will walk out with more. You will have laughed at Glass’s clever twists of the language, and between that and Mandell’s engaging acting turn, Mozo’s pert curtness, and Watson’s direction, "Trying" works effortlessly. It effectively turns inside out the inner frustrations of a once-strong man becoming feeble, the slipping mind, the failing body, without being maudlin, by tweaking each moment for laughs. The elder Biddle being propped up by the driven youth of Schorr then paints so vivid a picture of the trials of being young alongside those of being older. Life, in essence, is all about trying. Whether you’re young and just beginning, or old and retiring, life is a struggle, to be persevered. Biddle manages, as was his wont, to get the last word in, even via the newfangled "Dictaphone" machine. His words will ring in your ears as you exit the theater. Biddle’s, and in essence, Glass’s, words make a lasting impression.
"Trying" is written by Joanna McClelland Glass.