GOOD HELP IS HARD TO FIND: Kurt Gravenhorst's Francis Biddle is tough on his secretary, Sarah (Alexandra Bogorad). Photograph by Edmond Kwong
A Precocious young woman goes to work as a secretary for a retired lawyer. They don’t get along at first, but by the tear-jerking finale, they have developed a special bond. No—it’s not a thinly veiled version of the David Petraeus scandal. The current Tabard Theatre production of Trying is very much like Driving Miss Daisy, set in an office instead of a car. It’s sentimental, but forgivably so, and for all its familiarity, it offers a unique perspective; that of the playwright’s own experience as a secretary to Francis Biddle, U.S. Attorney General during World War II and the principal American judge at the Nuremberg Trials.
Trying deals with Biddle at the end of his life. By 1967, this formerly illustrious figure has become a cantankerous old fossil, bewildered by new technology and women burning their “upper underwear,” and making little progress on his memoirs and other projects he wishes to complete before he dies. “I am in the process of leaving this life,” he says. “The exit sign is flashing over the door, and the door is ajar.” He believes that at his age, everything should go exactly the way he wants it to, and has ostensibly fired all his previous secretaries after being disappointed by them in some way.
Biddle’s latest secretary is Sarah, a “prairie populist” from Saskatoon who immediately clashes with his Eastern patrician sensibilities. Despite its difficulties, the job gives Sarah a reprieve from her troubled marriage, and she manages to remind Biddle of who he once was: a democratic crusader who fought for workers and opposed Japanese-American internment.