It's the autumn of 1967 and 25-year-old Sarah starts a new job as a part-time secretary. Her employer is 81-year-old Judge Biddle, former Attorney General under Roosevelt and Chief American Judge at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. She is a fresh-faced can-do Canadian girl, whose last job was copy-writing on Madison Avenue. He is a man for whom the adjective irascible might have been invented.
The start of their relationship is not auspicious. The Judge’s previous secretary had managed to set fire to the office burning many precious manuscripts, a fact which he refers to regularly. He does not expect Sarah to last:“You’ll go in there to cry” he tells her, pointing to the bathroom. But Sarah is a feisty lass, rought up by a bully of a father. She won’t take such treatment from the Judge, even if his family did know Henry James and George Washington.
The play tracks their brief relationship, until the summer of the following year when he dies. What plot there is is slight and there are no particular shocks or surprises. Sarah is able to help him overcome the threatening pile in his in-tray and the unreconciled cheque book, while he helps her to feel positive when she becomes pregnant. The interest of the play lies in the age-old attraction of opposites. So, in spite of the almost 60 year age gap, and the fact that she is from the prairies of Canada and he from blue-blood East Coast stock, they discover that they have many things in common, not least a fondness for the poems of E.E. Cummings.
Writer Joanna McClelland Glass based Trying on her own experience working for the real Judge Biddle and there's a palpable sense of her affection for him. The Judge is a gift of a role and Michael Craig excels in it, blending stroppiness, humour and fragility. Meghan Popiel’s portrayal of Sarah as a girl with a strong will but a tender heart is a perfect counterpart. Set and sound, featuring the music of the Byrds and Martin Luther King’s civil rights speeches, work well to convey the late 60s period.
Trying is a thoroughly charming play. If you're looking to be challenged or provoked it's not the play for you. But if you want a enjoyable evening and some wonderful performances you'll not be disappointed.