John Stuart transforms into an octogenarian for his role as Judge Francis Biddle in Emerald Pig’s production of Trying.

John Stuart transforms into an octogenarian for his role as Judge Francis Biddle in Emerald Pig’s production of Trying.

It’s all about Trying

Emerald Pig presents Joanna McClelland Glass’ award-winning play at the ACT in Maple Ridge

Being cast as a crusty old curmudgeon has forced John Stuart to contemplate his senior years.

What shall he do when he retires? What plans must be made? How shall he prepare for death?

“It’s interesting because I have to face my own mortality,” says Stuart, who plays Judge Francis Biddle in Emerald Pig’s production of Trying, by Joanna McClelland Glass.

“Where I would be if it were the last year of my life?”

Directed by Simon Challenger,  Trying is a play about, well, trying. Trying to hold on to the past, trying to move forward into the future, trying to help, trying to help oneself, trying to change, trying to stay the same.

It is based on the real experiences of the playwright working for Judge Biddle in 1967. It is a heart-warming story of a “trying” relationship that evolves into understanding, mutual respect and friendship.

A brilliant legal mind, Judge Biddle was appointed by Harry Truman to the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1946 and went on to be attorney general under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Years later, he finds himself functioning “somewhere between lucidity and senility” with the weight of what he’ll leave behind as a legacy bearing down on him.

Biddle just can’t seem to find the right person to assist him in organizing the papers and experiences of a brilliant career. Many have tried, but none have succeeded. Just as he decides that there’s no one who can meet his expectations, Sarah Schorr, a 25-year-old, plain-spoken girl from Saskatchewan, arrives at his office.

“Biddle has a lot that he wants to accomplish,” says Stuart.

“He wants to leave the world his memoirs. His mind is there but his body is not working.”

To bring Biddle to life, Stuart must transform himself into an octogenarian, someone who is two decades older than he is.

Makeup and costume help but to realistically embody a sickly, broken man, Stuart’s been immersed in character study. He’s been carefully watching seniors, slowing his gait to match the pace of a person with creaking bones. He’s talked to people will arthritis to figure out how a person with inflammable joints would work a rotary dial telephone.

During rehearsals, he tapes four fingers together to get used to not being able to use them.

He will also wear an ankle brace to micmic Biddle’s limp.

With so much to be cognizant of on stage, Stuart says every little prop helps.

“It feels different. You just feel older,” he says.

“You feel the pain he has in his hands. The pain he has in his stomach. The shortness of breath that he has.”

Emily Doreen Wilson (who starred in last year’s  production of A Particular Class of Women) shines as Sarah Schorr.  She too must undergo many of her own physical changes during the play, which takes place over the course of a full year. These are achieved with the expertise and deft hands of Charlene Rowley, EPig’s award-winning costume designer. The challenges for Wilson as an actress involve understanding her character and the role of women in the 1960s.

Why does Sarah stay and put up with this crotchety old man? Why does she try? There is a depth to her character, she says, that is gently revealed.

It shows us the connections we all have with our fellow human beings, regardless of our superficial differences.

Trying is Emerald Pig’s Fraser Valley zone drama festival entry and director Simon Challenger hopes it will be chosen to represent the region again in Kamloops in July at Mainstage, Theatre BC’s provincial drama festival.

• Trying opens on Tuesday, May 7 in the Genstar Studio Theatre at The ACT, Maple Ridge, and runs through May 11 at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit  http://www.theactmapleridge.org/Trying or by calling the ACT Ticket Centre at 604-476-2787.