True-Life Drama with Scope, Depth and Satisfaction

Colonial Players’ two-person show Trying will surprise you in a good way

Michael Dunlop doesn’t just act Judge Francis Biddle; he inhabits him. The statesman, patrician and curmudgeon forges a friendship with his young secretary (Karen Grim) in a refreshingly sweet and platonic love story that is also rich in history and contrasts. <<photo by Colburn Images>>

Trying will surprise you in a good way. Colonial Players is promoting this delightful two-person show as a work rich in history and contrasts, and it is. It is also a love story, refreshingly sweet and platonic.
    Judge Francis Biddle, a national and international statesman, needed a personal assistant as he gathered his memoirs and responded to requests for information on the Nuremberg Trial, which he presided over, and the Japanese Internment of World War II, which he had argued against. A patrician advancing in years, Judge Biddle’s curmudgeonly ways ran off several secretaries before 25-year-old Sarah Schorr of Saskatchewan.

A Family of Achievers

Francis Biddle’s cousin, Livingston Biddle, drafted the legislation for the National Endowment for both the Arts and the Humanities. He was also the NEA’s third chairman.

Feb. 24
Triple Feature

Sunday, February 24 will be busy at Colonial Players. At 4:30,  hear a free forum, open to all, about the life of Judge Biddle with guest speakers Brian van Demark, professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy, and retired judge James Robinson. Later in the day, at 6:30, is a Sneak Peek announcement of the 2013-2014 season open to Colonial Players’ members and subscribers.

    Despite contrasts, Biddle and Schorr forged a friendship that is the real focus of this play, written by Joanna McClelland Glass, the real Schorr.
    Director Darice Clewell — a veteran at Colonial Players on stage, off-stage and on the Board of Directors — has a unique talent with two-person shows. (Her last was Dignity Players’ Stones in His Pockets.) She makes stage movement seem natural and gives her actors business that rings true to their characters. Most admirably, she helps her actors be comfortable listening to each other, a rare skill when standing in the middle of a stage.
    Michael N. Dunlop, most recently seen in To Kill a Mockingbird at Compass Rose Studio Theater, doesn’t act Judge Biddle; he inhabits him. Every breath, every groan as he laboriously bends down, even as he falls asleep on stage, rings true. His every word sounds genuine; he can take an unobtrusive line and spin it into both laughter and sadness, as when Judge Biddle reads his address book noting with astonishment that, “all the Bs are dead.” His mesmerizing performance is fully realized and charming.
    Karen Grim, seen recently in The Spitfire Grill, the shape of things, and The Crucible, balances Dunlop with Schorr. Hers is the kind of performance that can be debated: Perhaps the interpretation could have been bigger in showing more emotional values. But that’s a debate. It does not mitigate the honesty of her performance, which is as valid, moving and enchanting as Dunlop’s.
    Trying doesn’t have any climactic moments, but Director Clewell does slowly, gently raise the drama to a profoundly moving final speech from Judge Biddle for his young friend.
    As Colonial Players’ President Terry Averill writes in the program, this show is about empathy: “Through it we find grace, trust, hope and finally love.” That concisely describes the arc of emotions in Trying. What a sweet and touching Valentine Colonial Players has provided this spring.

Producer: Charlotte Robinson. Stage Manager: Herb Elkin. Set designers: Laurie Nolan and Heather Quinn. Costume designer: Meghan O’Bierne. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Joe Thompson. Props: JoAnn Gidos.
Playing thru March 2. Th-Sa 8pm; Su 2pm at Colonial Players, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.com.