Trying play at Theatre Artists Studio

Many items may fill an attorney’s bucket list, but having a compelling play written about them and their work? Unlikely. Law practice may be many things, but most of its dramas are small, interior, and unsung.

Exceptions exist, of course, and Theatre Artists Studio of Scottsdale – a member organization of actors, playwrights, directors, producers and designers – seems to have found one in the life of Francis Biddle.

If his name rings no bells – it did not for me – that’s a shame, for his contributions were great. He served as the U.S. Solicitor General in 1940 and soon was appointed the Attorney General in 1941. He served in that role through the tumultuous years of World War II.

Following the war, President Truman appointed Biddle as a judge at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremburg – where former Nazi officers and others were tried for genocide and crimes against humanity.

trying play francis biddle

Francis Biddle

Those posts, alone, make Biddle an important part of U.S. and world history. But they may not necessarily yield great theatre. Fortunately, there’s more to the story.

That story comes to us from playwright Joanna McClelland Glass, who relates her own life’s tale of being the personal secretary to an aging Biddle. “Trying” to write his autobiography, Biddle fears he will be unable to complete the work before his impending death. Along the way, the “brilliant and irascible” man makes life challenging – trying – for his young secretary, only recently arrived from the plains of Saskatchewan. The play promises to let audiences watch the two as they are trying to complete his memoir and to understand each other.

Actors Alan Austin and Vanessa Benjamin in

Actors Alan Austin and Vanessa Benjamin in “Trying,” Theatre Artists Studio

Biddle was accomplished as an attorney, judge and author of numerous books. But his renown comes mainly from his work as the Chief Judge at Nuremberg, and for his prior response to the incarceration of Japanese Americans – many of whom were citizens – during World War II.

Remember, he was America’s top legal officer at the time, so a close examination of his actions are warranted. He is said to have personally opposed the wholesale internment of nearly 120,000 people – especially given the results of FBI investigations that revealed no looming plot that these people were engaged in.

Nonetheless, despite his own misgivings and the protests of others like Assistant to the A.G. James Rowe Jr., Biddle ultimately acquiesced to the mounting pressure. The War Department wanted large areas of the western states turned into zones that permitted suspension of the writ of habeas corpus – and Biddle agreed. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942.

The documentary evidence is fascinating. You can read Biddle’s memo, and others’, here. It may have been small consolation in Biddle’s later years – and absolutely no consolation to incarcerated citizens – that he always regretted his decision.

Which makes the play’s title all the more evocative.

“Trying” opens tonight, Friday, January 12, and runs through February 4. It features Studio Member Alan Austin as Francis Biddle and guest artist Vanessa Benjamin as Sarah. Produced by Walt Pedano with direction by Judy Rollings.

Show times are Friday & Saturday nights at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm for all productions. The theatre is at 4848 E. Cactus Rd, #406, Scottsdale, AZ 85254.

Tickets are available here or at the Box Office: 602-765-0120.

For more information, go here.

You can watch a video about the play below:

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