The sold-out opening night audience at the Firehall Theatre in Gananoque gave the production of TRYING a spontaneous standing ovation, and deservedly so. I'd heard very good things about the play, and it certainly lives up to its advance billing.
In the 60's playwright Joanna McClelland Glass was secretary to Judge Francis Biddle, Attorney General under Roosevelt and Chief Judge at Nuremberg. She has set her play in 1967, the final year of Biddle's life. The relationship between Judge Biddle and Sarah Schorr, the inexperienced young Canadian newly hired as his secretary, is based on the playwright's personal memories. Despite their many differences, a strong friendship grows based on respect and affection. Although there are many funny moments in this initially bumpy relationship, the play is ultimately very moving.
Ian D. Clark is perfect as the irascible Francis Biddle, who describes his life as one in which,"The exit sign is over the door and it's flashing. And the door is ajar." He stubbornly attempts to maintain his independence and growls, "I may be an invalid, but I am not yet in-valid." Mr. Clark's physicalization of the age and arthritic pain of the elderly judge is subtle and thoroughly believable.
As Sarah, Melissa Good provides an excellent foil for Mr. Clark. She makes Sarah's intelligence apparent even through the character's initial naiveté and earnestness. We can see her grow in confidence and maturity as the relationship develops and deepens.
Robin Fisher's set is interesting, and features a lovely antique desk for the Judge. The versatile playing space at the Firehall is set up with the stage running lengthwise through the center with the audience seated on opposite sides. Dan Rider's excellent lighting takes full advantage of the gable windows at either end of the set. Miss Fisher's costumes are also very good.
Kathryn MacKay has done a masterful job of directing TRYING. I liked her choice of using the actors, primarily Sarah, to make the minor adjustments required for scene changes, then using a prop person to prepare the set for the final scene. It seemed very right and pointed up what was happening in the play. She and her two excellent actors have brought out all the humor and humanity in the script.
On re-reading this review it seems short, but I don't want to deluge you with superlatives. Kudos to Artistic Director Greg Wanless for opening the Firehall's second season with TRYING. This is a terrific production of a wonderful play.
On a scale of one to five the Firehall Theatre production of TRYING gets five dalmations. For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.