Trying Closes Palm Beach Dramaworks Season

Dennis Creaghan plays the irascible Francis Biddle and Kelly McCready portrays Biddle’s self-confident secretary Sarah Schorr in Trying at Palm Beach Dramaworks. Photo by Tim Stepien.


By Jan Sjostrom

Heavy footsteps sound off-stage in the opening scene of Trying running through June 9 Palm Beach Dramaworks in West Palm Beach. The steps precede the entrance of Francis Biddle, scion of a patrician Philadelphia family and a Harvard law school graduate, whose many distinctions include serving as United States attorney general under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and chief American judge at the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.

Now 81, he’s not the man he was. He’s chased off a parade of secretaries and now one more has arrived to brave his razor tongue, wandering wits and imperious demands.

Just 25, the aspiring writer Sarah Schorr grew up the daughter of a mean drunk on the Canadian prairie. There are no blue-blood degrees in her resume. But Sarah has the one qualification required to succeed as Biddle’s secretary: spine.

The intergenerational, social class-busting faceoff wraps up Palm Beach Dramaworks’ season. Steered by Producing Artistic Director William Hayes, the semi-autobiographical play explores how Biddle and Sarah bridged the gulf between them to build a working partnership. Like Sarah, playwright Joanna McClelland Glass served as Biddle’s secretary in the year before his death in 1968.

Dennis Creaghan plays the irascible Francis Biddle and Kelly McCready portrays Biddle’s self-confident secretary Sarah Schorr in Trying at Palm Beach Dramaworks. Photo by Tim Stepien.

There’s little action in Trying. The audience might need as much patience as Sarah does with her boss to appreciate its finer points.

The play is more a war of words. Signs of emotional bonding are scarce. The climax, when it finally comes, feels more like a dam bursting than a gradual building of trust and respect. On the other hand, it’s also a nuanced portrait of a flawed and fascinating historical figure at the end of his life.

Played with unflinching honesty by Dennis Creaghan, Biddle struggles to command his failing body, collapses into instant dozes and, as he puts it, functions somewhere between lucidity and senility.

He resists those who try to manage him and needles Sarah with high-falutin’ insults, even as he depends on her not only for the usual secretarial tasks but also to straighten out his checkbook and remind him who he’s phoning when he forgets.

Actress Kelly McCready makes it clear that Sarah is no pushover. Dressed in Brian O’Keefe’s prim ensembles, Sarah is nothing like a 1960s flower child. She holds herself proudly erect, maintains her composure and cuts through Biddle’s endless distractions with firm determination.

Aside from an occasional phone call, boss and secretary work out their differences in isolation, enclosed by scenic designer Brett Scott’s book-filled, dark-wood version of Biddle’s office. The passage of time is signaled by snippets of radio news headlines and Top-40 tunes.

As Hayes says in the playbill, Trying models how seemingly disparate people can overcome their differences and work together. Viewed from that perspective, the show concludes the theater’s season – perhaps the most powerful in its 24-year history – on a hopeful note.

Trying runs through June 9 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. The show runs 2 ½ hours with a 15-minute intermission. Performances are held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $89, with discount rates available for students, anyone under 40 and educators with proper IDs. Tickets are available at the box office, by phone at (561) 514-4042, ext. 2 and online at

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