Former U.S. attorney General and perpetual curmudgeon Francis Biddle proves trying to young Sarah Schorr, the latest aspirant through his revolving door of personal secretaries. Biddle's crankiness, pedantry and selfsuperiority come at Canadian expatriate Sarah like flame from a fire-breathing dragon.
Trying is what Sarah from Saskatoon does anyway, standing her ground and dutifully doing her job despite Biddle's slings and arrows. Trying, ultimately, is what Biddle, who also served as the chief judge at the Nuremberg Trials does, too, at the cost of his arrogance and grumpiness. He develops a soft spot for Sarah as she stands up to him.
Yet Trying, Joanna McClelland Glass' two-person play based on her real-life experiences as Biddle's secretary in the late '60s, resists softness and sentiment when it might have wallowed in both. This is in large part due to textured performances from Doug Waldo and Kelsey Venter at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. Venter makes her Lamb's debut in this tensely poignant drama. She makes Sarah's vulnerability and, more so, her invulnerability in the face of a bully as tactile as the leather on Biddle's favorite office chair.
Biddle mocks his new secretary for her roots (provincial, he believes), her education (inadequate, he thinks), her speaking (splitting infinitives is a capital crime in Biddle's book) and, most of all, her gall in actually defying him. Yet in Waldo's capable hands, Biddle is not unredeemable. His body and memory are failing him, and he gets sympathy points for that, but when push comes to shove, he grudgingly gives spunky Sarah his respect. For a man like Biddle, who walked D.C.'s hallowed halls and crusaded in the name of the poor, the disenfranchised and the ill-treated, respect is the greatest gift in his bag.
Biddle's and Sarah's rocky beginnings bring to mind the pilot of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show when Mary refuses to be buffaloed by Lou Grant. “You've got spunk,” he seemed to compliment her, followed by “I hate spunk!”
Sarah's just as strident as Mary was, and Biddle must acknowledge not her spunk but her “spine.” Then the two unlikely compatriots try to get ailing Biddle's memoirs down before his time runs out.
The Lamb's production, directed by Kerry Meads, is restrained and dignified, but with room for Biddle to bluster—as he no doubt would have wanted it. Trying runs through Sept. 25. $26-$60. lambplayers.org
—David L. Coddon
Edward II: A cast of 14 plays multiple roles in Marlowe's classic drama of power and passion. It previews Sept. 8 and 9 and opens Sept 10 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $20-$45. diversionary.org
Lend Me a Tenor: Ken Ludwig's Tony-winning comedy of mistaken identity is set in the world of opera in the '30s. In previews Sept. 7 through 9, it opens Sept. 10 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $32-$49. northcoastrep.org
Man of La Mancha: In this staging of the musical that gave the world “The Impossible Dream,” the actors are also the musicians. Opens Sept. 8 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. $44-$47. welktheatersandiego.com
Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen's 1813 novel comes to life in this stage adaptation. Opens Sept. 9 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. $14-$16. onstageplayhouse.org Thom Pain: Will Eno's one-man show, an off-Broadway hit, makes its San Diego premiere. It previews Sept. 7 through 9 and opens Sept. 10 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. $24-$36. newvillagearts.org
Till We Have Faces: Producing artistic director Robert Smyth adapted and directs the Lamb's Players Ensemble's retelling of the story of lovers Psyche and Cupid, with original music by Deborah Gilmour Smyth. Opens Sept. 9 at Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Dancing Naked in the Rain: The last year of D.H. Lawrence's life—the same time he was writing Lady Chatterley's Lover-—is dramatized in this original work by San Diegan Neal Metcalf. Presented by New Vision Theatre Company, it opens Sept. 9 at Sunshine Brooks Theatre in Oceanside. $14-$17. sunshinebrookstheatre.org
How the Other Half Loves: Jim Caputo directs Alan Ayckbourn's drawing-room comedy. It previews Sept. 9 and opens Sept. 10 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. $22-$25. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Grace: The real-estate boom comes back to bite a religious-minded Florida couple in this local premiere of Craig Wright's play. Produced by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Sept. 10 at BLKBOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$29. iontheatre.com
Amadeus: Composer Antonio Salieri throws up a series of roadblocks to sidetrack the career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his supposed archrival. Through Sept. 22 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Much Ado about Nothing: While Beatrice and Benedick hide their infatuation beneath witty barbs, young love blossoms as Hero and Claudio race to the altar, with the wicked Don John conspiring to break up the wedding. Through Sept. 24 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare's fanciful comedy about lovers, fairies and forest creatures gets a late-summer staging. Through Sept. 25 at Coronado Playhouse. Free ($5 donation encouraged). coronadoplayhouse.com
Milk Like Sugar: In Kirsten Greenidge's coming-of-age play, a teen-age girl in a nowhere town makes a pregnancy pact with two of her high-school friends. Through Sept. 25 at La Jolla Playhouse. $35 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
The Tempest: With the help of his spirit friend Ariel, the magician Prospero conjures up a shipwreck that restores his daughter to her rightful place in the Milan hierarchy. Through Sept. 25 at The Old Globe Theatre's Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in Balboa Park. $29-$67. oldglobe.org
Trying: Former chief judge of the Nuremberg Trials Francis Biddle's efforts to write his memoirs are complicated by “help” from a young assistant. Through Sept. 25 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour makes a Faustian bargain with a mean, green, man-eating plant to provide fresh meat in exchange for money, fame and the love of his life. Produced by Cygnet Theatre Company, it runs through Oct. 2 at The Old Town Theatre. $34-$59. cygnettheatre.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. $28-$58. lambsplayers.org
Shotgun Wedding Anniversary: How else can a miserable 25-year marriage end but in murder? Presented by Mystery Cafe, it's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. $59.50, including dinner. mysterycafe.net