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LONG BEACH – It’s 1967. Lyndon B. Johnson is in office, Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis have just become an “item,” protests against the Vietnam War are going strong — and Judge Francis Biddle, former Attorney General under FDR and Chief Judge at the Nuremburg Trials, is 81 years old.
“Trying,” the award-winning play inspired by the real-life experiences of playwright Joanna McClelland Glass as personal secretary to Biddle during the last year of his life, opens at International City Theatre on Aug. 22, directed by John Henry Davis and starring Tony Abatemarco and Paige Lindsey White.
Called “exquisitely literate, moving and compelling” by Daily Variety, “Trying” is a funny, bittersweet look at the healing power of companionship, and a fascinating portrait of an illustrious figure in American history.
After a series of disappointing failures with secretaries, the brilliant and irascible Biddle — in failing health and beginning to confront his own mortality — is apprehensive when the young and inexperienced Sarah Schorr arrives to work with him in his small office over the garage of his home.
Although his ancestry and position in the centers of American power contrast strongly with her humble beginnings on the prairies of Saskatchewan, the two forge a rocky friendship, and Glass’ richly scripted story illustrates how two strangers, at two dramatically different places in their lives, can unexpectedly and forever influence each other.
“It’s a fascinating relationship between two people with radically different ideas of the world,” says Davis. “His is a patrician world view and she’s a prairie populist. He’s facing the end of a vital life and career, and she’s just starting out. The result is an exciting, funny and thrilling partnership.”
Scion of an old Philadelphia Mainline family, Francis Biddle was a complicated man. A Harvard graduate and successful attorney, he threw off the expectations of his upbringing and made it his life’s work to stand up for the downtrodden and fight for what is right. Yet, despite his sense of social justice and the great good he achieved in his lifetime, he was not without contradictions. It was Biddle’s duty during World War II to order the FBI to round up Japanese-born American citizens and take them to internment camps, a fact that continued to haunt him throughout his life. In a letter to Stanford Professor Shiko Furukawa, he later wrote, “Never again will I trust that mystic cliché ‘military necessity.’”
Glass initially started out to write a one-act play about her experiences working with Biddle in the converted office over his Georgetown garage. But it took another three decades for her to turn it into a full-length play. By then she was long-divorced, her children grown, and she had just lost the love of her life (Canadian actor George Sperdakos) to cancer. Glass told an interviewer that she needed the “mileage” that those years had put on before she could go back and fill out her story. Trying premiered at the Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago in 2004, where it received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Work.
Tony Abatemarco was most recently seen at ICT as painter Mark Rothko in John Logan’s Red, for which he received a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nomination for Lead Performance. A graduate of Juilliard Drama, Tony has won top honors for his lead performances in The Mystery of Irma Vep(Tiffany Theatre – Ovation, LA Weekly, Robbie awards), Bach at Leipzig (South Coast Rep – LADCC nomination), La Bete (Stages at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre – Ovation nomination), Camara Lenta (Stages – LA Weekly and LADCC nominations), and his original Four Fathers (LA Weekly and Drama-Logue awards). This spring, he appeared in Long Beach Opera’s The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky. He currently serves as co-artistic director of the Skylight Theatre Company and is a member of The Antaeus Company. Internationally, he starred in Plato’s Symposium at the ICA in London and The Waiting of Electra at the International Socrates Festival in Delphi, Greece. He performed his original short story, Cologne, at the Rattlestick off-Broadway and in Los Angeles, Santa Fe and Miami, and he directed a revival at the Skylight Theatre in L.A.
Trying runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Aug. 22 through Sept. 14. Two preview performances take place on Wednesday, Aug. 20 and Thursday, Aug. 21 at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $42 on Thursdays and $47 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, except opening night (June 6) for which tickets are $52 and include a post-performance reception with the actors.
International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach. For reservations and information, call the ICT Box Office at (562) 436-4610 or InternationalCityTheatre.org.
Published: July 17, 2014 – Volume 13 – Issue 14