Los Angeles Theater Review: TRYING (International City Theatre in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on September 6, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


A slight bio-drama is given heft by larger-than-life performances in this latest outing from International City Theatre in Long Beach. Trying is based on playwright Joanna McClelland Glass’s own experiences as a 25-year-old woman from Saskatoon working as a secretary for the great, cantankerous Francis Biddle—attorney general under FDR and later a Nuremberg judge. The play takes place in an office above his garage in Georgetown, piled high with charred books—the legacy of a prior secretary who burned down his previous office. He has had several secretaries and all have quit since Biddle is an impossible old curmudgeon.

Paige Lindsey White and Tony Abatemarco in TRYING at International City Theatre.

The two-hander begins near the end of Biddle’s life in 1967 when he is 81 and ailing: He knows he’s going to die within a year, we know he’s going to die at the end of the play, so the entire affair—grumpy old liberal blue-blood patrician is won over by his kind-hearted secretary’s gumption—is predictable and somewhat bumpy. He is struggling to finish his life story and to take care of both professional and personal matters before his health fails him completely. This bits-and-pieces drama is stuffed with fascinating facts and the two characters are captivating, but this year-long friendship has nowhere to go, making McClelland’s context a bit stale: He’ll die at the end and she’ll carry on, forever changed by their brief connection.

Tony Abatemarco and Paige Lindsey White in TRYING at International City Theatre.

Given that, the evening never lagged. Front and center is the smartly unseen guidance of director John Henry Davis, who allows his canny actors—Paige Lindsey White as the secretary, Sarah, and Tony Abatemarco as Biddle—to work their magic. The role of the judge has been played by octogenarian actors (Fritz Weaver, James Whitmore, Alan Mandell), but at twenty years younger than his role, Abatemarco manages to physically embody the ravages of time with precision. And White, one of my favorite L.A. actresses, injects enough complexity and stalwart vulnerability to make her nearly one-dimensional role most watchable.

Tony Abatemarco and Paige Lindsey White in TRYING at International City Theatre

In addition, I’m a sucker for the themes and subjects in the play: The eagerness of youth; the decay of old age; cynicism in a world of injustice; literature; mortality; idealism; FDR; and timeless quotes. All of these wrapped in the contentious years of 1967 and ’68 made me wistful.

Tony Abatemarco & Paige Lindsey White in TRYING at International City Theatre.photos by Suzanne Mapes

International City Theatre
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach
Thurs – Sat at 8; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on September 14, 2014
for tickets, call (562) 436-4610
or visit www.ICTLongBeach.org

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