Tuesday, March 30, 2021

                              NCR “Trying” A Hidden Gem.

The latest of the filmed for streaming play “Trying” by Joanna McClelland Glass, in this semi biographical turn, is a little gem in disguise. It stars James Sutorius as famed Attorney General and Chief Judge at Nuremberg, Francis Biddle and Emily Goss is Sarah Schorr, Joanna McClelland Glass’ alter ego. It’s no secret that Sutorius is one hell of an actor having won the San Diego Theatre Critics Award for his title role in NCR’S “The Father”, another sleeper.  He is wonderful as Judge Bigddle. (more on that later) “Trying” will be remembered as a history lesson for the times and beyond.   

When Sarah first met Judge Francis Biddle in 1967 she was in her early twenties and he was 81. He had pretty much ‘done it all.’ She was from the Canadian prairie, her native Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  His ancestry dated back to 1681, England and was “Main Line Philadelphia”, a Blueblood, if you will. Her father was a salesman, who lost everything when he was fired from his job and eventually drank himself to death. Her mother was illiterate.

He could trace his lineage, on his mother’s side, to influential aristocrat Thomas Randolph, a diplomatic agent reporting to Queen Elizabeth and a younger Thomas Randolph, successful writer of English and Latin.

           James Sutorius and Emily Goss (photo by Aaron Rumley)

As a matter of history, after graduation from Harvard, cum laude with both B.A. and L.L.B. Biddle worked as a private secretary to Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He spent the next twenty years in trial work and during the great Depression he became ‘consumed’ with the plight of the Pennsylvania coal miners and became politically active in labor issues.

In 1934 President Roosevelt appointed him chairman of the TVA and in 1939 became judge on the United States Court of Appeals, then became United States Solicitor General. In 1941 he was Roosevelt’s Attorney General. After Roosevelt’s death, President Truman appointed him a judge at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

Getting his memoirs, books and personal papers in order became a monumental task after his retirement as chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action and president of the American Civil Liberties Union. His things were in disarray. His office was a mess. His checkbook out of whack and his life was headed toward the ‘blinking EXIT signs’. Papers were stacked on opposite desks in his makeshift office (read barn) across the courtyard from his house and he had gone through enough ‘Gal Friday’s’ to intimidate another from applying for the job…Enter Sarah Schorr.

In Joanna McClelland Glass’ heartwarming play, “Trying”, about the final year in Judge Francis Biddle’s life is now in a solid production under the deft direction of artistic director David Ellenstein at North Coast Rep.  The word ‘trying’ takes on many meanings. It is a trying time for both the Judge and his novice secretary. 

Both ‘try’ to bridge the age gap and understand the other’s needs, although Biddle complains bitterly about not having enough time or energy to get involved in Sarah’s personal life. In fact, he becomes somewhat of a surrogate father by plays end and knows more about her than he lets on.   Biddle tries to hang on until the work is complete while Sarah tries not to let the crotchety and kvetchy judge dislodge her from her position.

As Biddle, the expressions of pain when his arthritis kicked in; the repetitive directions he had forgotten he gave to Sarah about not turning the floor heaters on; about the fiasco of his last secretary; about his impending death; about his insistence on using proper English; about his education, his love of poetry and about losing a son at the age of seven are real. All the little glimpses of a man who knew of his greatness and was ready to face his mortality are seen in another great turn for Sutorius, who might not be an octogenarian yet, but comes a close to the real thing, as I can attest. Repetitive, just ask my kids. 

As Sarah, Ms. Goss who received her B.A in Theater from the University of Southern California and M.A. in Classical Acting from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, her talents shined through withflying colors. She is a perfect foil for the crusty, yet soft Biddle. She is feisty, understanding and goes nose to nose in great harmony with Biddle. Theirs is truly a friendship at plays end. 

Marty Burnett’s busy set, set the tone with all the little Knick knack’s and prop design by Phillip Korth, Elisa Benzoni costumes are period right. A huge hat’s off to Aaron Rumley (cinematographer/ Editor/ stage manager) for the near perfect theatrical experience through the media of streaming. 

“TRYING” will stream on Showtix4U.com on demand from MARCH 24 to April 18, 2021. Tickets are $35 - $54 and can be purchased at northcoastrep.org. 

For a history lesson in the making and an up to date look back at history repeating itself, this is a perfect choice for the times. 

Two Thumbs UP!


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