‘Trying’ at Colonial Players by Amanda Gunther

A more difficult relationship could not be fathomed than that of the one that springs inadvertently between a crotchety set-in-his ways retired ex-judge and a spry youthful Canadian secretary as the two attempt to work through his final days and all of his life’s work in the process. Colonial Players presents that relationship in Trying a drama by Joanna McClelland Glass. Directed by Darice Clewell, this production is a touching piece that focuses intensely on the unlikely friendship and working order that blossoms between two very different people.

Michael N. Dunlop as Judge Francis Biddle. Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.
Michael N. Dunlop as Judge Francis Biddle. Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

The first act simply drags with a leaden weight that detracts from the lighter comedic moments found within the dialogue. The scene changes— which become necessary due to costume changes, leave the audience in darkness for lengthy periods of time and could do with shortening to keep the momentum of the play moving. Director Clewell does, however, speed up the progress of the place pacing late in act II, allowing the funnier moments to land correctly and the more poignant ones to linger just long enough to leave an impact without over-saturating the audience.

Costume Designer Meghan O’Beirne does not properly address Sarah’s changing physicality throughout the production. Later in the show the character is markedly noted as six months pregnant, though nothing is done to properly show this. She’s given a garish orange dress but remains completely flat in her stomach. This detracted from the important lines the character had to say as she was making reference to her pregnancy. O’Beirne did manage to provide a myriad of colorful stylish outfits for Sarah’s character, the complexity of which bogged down the scene changes.

Clewell’s biggest success was coaching Karen Grim in the subtlety of her Canadian accent. An overdone accent for a character who is a transplant into America can be farcical with a deeply false feeling to it, but Clewell balanced this aspect of Grim’s character delicately, using subtle nuances in various places to make her accent sound authentic. Highlighting key words like ‘house’ whilst leaving out the stereotypical ‘eh’ made for the perfect equilibrium, allowing her to speak more naturally.

Grim as the Canadian secretary is a meager and polite little woman who transforms her interior as the play progresses. Her ability to feign polite interest in the judge’s initial ramblings is uncanny, as if he is not the first to bore her to death with his pontifications. Her perky optimism translates well into both her voice and facial expressions, not allowing him to get her goat. Though when she hits her breaking points her emotional meltdowns are quite sharp. Grim lives up to the label ‘bold as brass’ particularly when she’s in her persistent mode, nagging better and more efficiently than most housewives.

The sparks that fly between Grim and Judge Biddle (Miachel N. Dunlop) are riveting. When the action finally gets moving, Dunlop and Grim are at it like the immovable wall and the unstoppable force, Grim being the force to be reckoned with while Dunlop takes up the role of being stubborn as the day is long. The textual jibes fling freely between them, both having a keen sense of timing in their repartee. The amiable nature that is the eventual result of these difficult disagreements feels genuine, as if the two actors have a subtle internal connection linking them to the calmer moments on stage.

Dunlop plays the epitome of an irascible, cantankerous, nasty old man. With sharp snappy responses for everything he barbs and bites a bit like a snake without teeth— all venom and absolutely no way to sting with it. This approach to his character’s text makes for a lively mess of a man, unsound in his sensibilities as they have all ‘pissadeared’ or so his wandering mind keeps telling him. Dunlop’s lugubrious laments make moments of his life particularly tragic, like when he discovers that all of the B’s in his phonebook have died, but he rallies with a fiery passion; that sort that shows he had one last kick still in him.

 Michael N. Dunlop(Judge Francis Biddle) and Karen Grim (Sarah Schorr).
Michael N. Dunlop (Judge Francis Biddle) and Karen Grim (Sarah Schorr). Photo courtesy of Colonial Players.

The touching drama is absolutely worth seeing because of the hard work and dedication provided by these two actors, and it’s suitable for anyone who enjoys touching stories.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.

Trying plays through March 2, 2013 at Colonial Players— 108 East Street in the heart of Historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.




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