TRYING, now streaming from North Coast Rep, is an interesting portrait of two generations meeting and trying to be understood by the other. With all of the talk of Millennials and Baby Boomers, it’s easy to think that these are the first generations to ever have difficulty relating to each other. Communication styles, cultural norms, and everything that is discussed now has been discussed prior, and will probably be discussed again in the future among new generations.
Staring James Sutorius as famed Judge and US Attorney General Francis Biddle, who in the twilight of his life is trying to get his books, papers, and memoirs all together. Emily Goss is Sarah, the twenty-something secretary who has been brought in to help him achieve this task.
Written by Joanna McClelland Glass, who based this piece on her own experience in the late 1960s as the secretary to the real-life Biddle, TRYING works because of the respect at its core.
Set in 1967, this is a clash of generations; Biddle doesn’t want her there (his last secretary was a mess and set a small fire) so he’s distrustful, to say the least. He is cantankerous, has very firm ideas of what is appropriate, and is slowly coming to terms with his now very disorganized mind. Yet, no matter how muddled he becomes, he is constantly enraged if someone splits an infinitive in his presence.
Sarah, a spunky young woman from Saskatoon, Canada and is plain-spoken, a hard worker, and has a fair amount of steel to stand up to his personality quirks. She isn’t deterred by the tasks at hand or his personality; she enjoys hard work and is happy to prove it.
It’s like a classic movie pairing of opposites: Biddle has firm ideas on shorthand (old shorthand was better, new is to be distrusted) Sarah wants to introduce him to the modern dictaphone. He reminiscences on his time at Harvard and his family lineage, while Sarah is equally as proud of her being “from the plains.” Biddle knows he is declining and in his final years, Sarah is just starting to build a life and a family.
Biddle would be an easy role to fall into the “grumpy old man” trap, but Sutorius makes the character’s intelligence shine through, he also knows that he is a bit of a cranky perfectionist, but he’s earned that right. As Biddle softens, Sutorius allows regrets, and the successes of his life to shine through to balance some of the earlier hard edges.
Goss as Emily is also a balance of the smart, and practical, hard worker, with some more emotional moments about the character’s childhood, or future family situations. Her Sarah is believably and smoothly multifaceted as she goes from typing one minute, to quoting poetry the next, to helping bring firm order with a side of empathetic kindness to her cantankerous boss.
As they try to get used to each other, work together, and understand each other, their relationship shows how much each generation can learn from, and benefit from each other.
Directed by David Ellenstein, he keeps this dialogue-heavy play moving at a brisk pace, with an undercurrent of a tennis match between two capable players. Whatever Biddle serves up Sarah is ready to return in kind.
On a set designed by Marty Burnett, a very cluttered and cozy garage office, with costumes by Elisa Benzon, and Props by Phillip Korth (who also acted as the COVID compliance officer) this show has an intimate and homey feeling.
Cinematography, editing, and stage management by Aaron Rumley, along with film crew Christopher Williams and Katelyn Slater bring the show to your streaming device while making it still feel like you’re in the theatre.
TRYING is a play about relationships and forging through differences to find common ground. The communication between the characters underscores how important trying to communicate, trying to understand, and trying to be kind can go a long way. A good lesson for any generation.
TRYING is now streaming from North Coast Rep through April 18th, 2021. Tickets for the streaming production can be purchased at www.northcoastrep.com
Once you purchase your ticket to the performance you will be sent a link to watch. Once you have clicked the link you will have 48 hours of access to view it.
Directed by David Ellenstein
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