The Long Beach International City Theatre is one of the Southland’s premiere venues. Many factors contribute to making that statement a fact, with artistic director caryn desai’s discerning eye in her choice of plays perhaps topping the list. The venue as well plays no small part in the equation, offering a thrust stage that melts into a flawless harmony of form and function, resulting in an intimacy neither forced nor intrusive, which benefits audience and actors alike.
But the primary factor in ICT’s success is its ability to attract the finest tier of acting talent.
In “Trying” you are treated to an excellent example of ICT’s many strengths in action. Penned by Canadian playwright Joanna McClelland Glass, “Trying” is a dramatization of the year Glass spent in her youth as the personal secretary to the aged Francis Biddle.
Biddle, (Tony Abatemarco), the bluest of bluebloods, had had a long and lauded career in government having served as FDR’s Attorney General and presided as Chief Judge at the Nuremburg trials. As portrayed in the play, Biddle is “old, ailing and cranky”, and has already sent two prior secretaries fleeing. Sarah, (Paige Lindsey White), Glass’ alter ego, recently married and recently arrived in D.C. is a self described “bugger for work.”
What proceeds is an intelligent – very intelligent – character study, as well as a very entertaining one.
The worst that can be said of the piece is that it’s playwright-lite. The conflict is restricted to the standard age/youth dynamics found in The Bad News Bears and the comic strip Dennis the Menace. This conflict fades markedly by the second act. By then Sarah and Biddle have come to accept each other, diluting what tension there was without instilling an alternate dramatic flow. The piece is still exceptionally crafted and the characters engaging, when superior acting and a sturdy directorial hand is applied to the mix, as it is in the ICT production, you are all but assured a crowd-pleaser.
Paige Lindsey White, whose talent can be attested to by any who witnessed her work in 24th Street Theatre’s highly praised “Walking the Tightrope”, or was present to appreciate her Myra in ICT’s “Ghost Writer”, brings her all to the role of Sarah. The only grievance one can fix on her performance is that the playwright failed to forge more fire into the character for White to sink her teeth into.
Abatemarco, co- founder of the Skylight Theatre, producer, playwright and actor, has more meat on his plate as the elderly Biddle and dives into it with great relish. From the outset of the play, Biddle is quite vocal that this is his last year. “The exit light is flashing and the door is ajar,” he repeats. Abatemarco, with some help from costumer Kim DeShazo one suspects, conveys the wilting of a man whose body is dimming while the spirit is still bright. The play offers Abatemarco the opportunity of a standout performance and a standout performance is what he delivers.
Director John Henry Davis brings a steady hand and sharp eye to the task before him. However this production, like his work on “Dr. Anonymous” earlier this year, reveals an Achilles’ heel in the inability to mask the flaws inherent in a work. Granted, “Trying” has far fewer flaws than “Dr. Anonymous” had, still they are there. Oddly enough, the playwright herself touches upon the solution she fails to apply.
“The measure of one’s worth,” she has expressed in the play, “is the measure of one’s journey.”
Truer words were never spoken.
But the playwright short changes both her piece and her audience on the journey she weaves for her characters. Theirs is not an epic trek where great discoveries await at the conclusion, but an ordinary trip to the market, where at the end everyone makes nice.
Nevertheless, through that prism of talents and craftsmanship the ICT production bestows on the material, it is quite easy to pretend that “Trying” is a perfect play.