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A CurtainUp NJ Review
I am here to right a wrong. That is why God created Democrats. — Judge Biddle
Photo: Carly Zien and Philip Goodwin photo credit: T. Charles Erickson
How can the spunky 25 year-old secretary Sarah Schorr (Carly Zien) hold on to her job while standing up to the verbal slings and arrows shot at her by the cantankerous 81 year-old Judge Francis Biddle (Philip Goodwin)' After all, she is the latest in a string of secretaries presumably deemed unacceptable by the semi-retired judge. The answer comes soon enough in this sweet, winning semi-autobiographical play that follows the sometimes rocky daily working relationship between the self-educated young woman and the erudite judge. Judge Biddle served as the U.S. Attorney General under Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as being the chief American judge at the Nuremburg trials.

Biddle's chief characteristic at this point in his life is that of a stiff-necked, autocratic and highly opinionated curmudgeon. Goodwin takes on the challenge and instills a snappish charm into the brilliant Biddle's seemingly relentless harping and complaining. A Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional theater veteran, Goodwin never lets Biddle's prevailing petulance distract him from a performance that also reflects the anguish he feels with the loss of his competence in this the last year of his life.

Zien, who is making an impressive George Street Playhouse debut, beautifully steers Sarah's tentativeness into assertiveness over the play's eight month period during the mid 1960s. As such, she is acutely sensitive to Biddle's own diagnosis of himself as living a state somewhere between "lucidity and senility." The play wisely does not place a lot of emphasis on Sarah's life but it is given a little added weight by allowing Sarah's marital problems. including an unwanted pregnancy, to momentarily offset the focus on Biddle's declining health and neediness.

Basically a memory play drawn from the author's own experiences, Trying mainly reveals how the Yale-educated to-the-manor-born Philadelphian slowly warms up to and gradually learns to respect a less privileged woman from Saskatchewan, Canada. The title doesn't come out of the courtroom but rather from the two of them" trying" to make their testy relationship productive. Biddle's testy nature becomes an amusing catalyst for Sarah. Much of the play's pleasure comes from seeing how Sarah determinedly brings about order to the chaos that she has found herself immersed.

During the process, much of which is propelled by Biddle's condescension and argumentative nature, sections of Biddle's memoirs are read. One of the many things that come to light includes how he regrets not having made a stronger case against the internment of Japanese in the United States during World War II. This is but one reason Director Jim Jack has no trouble making a strong case for keeping this intelligent, involving and always amusing play a dramatic staple.

Although the action is confined to Biddle's private retreat/office atop the garage behind his home in Washington, D.C., set designer Jason Simms has made it visually impressive by including a large bay window through which falling snow and heavy rains can be seen. It is enhanced by Christopher J. Bailey's excellent lighting design. Trying had a successful and highly praised run Off-Broadway in 2004 (Editor Elyse Sommer's review) and has proven itself a dramatic mainstay over the years in regional theaters.

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Trying by Joanna McClelland Glass
Directed by Jim Jack
Cast: Carly Zien (Sarah), Philip Goodwin (Judge Biddle)
Set Design: Jason Simms
Costume Design: Esther Arroyo
Lighting Design: Christopher J. Bailey
Production Stage Manager: Jane Pole
Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission
George Street Playhouse, 103 College Farm Road, New Brunswick, N.J.
Performances: Tuesday through Saturdays at 8 pm Thursday, Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m. Sundays at 7 p.m.
From 03/13/18 Opened 03/16/18 Ends 04/08/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/16/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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