TRYING, Victory Gardens Theater. In this world premiere, playwright Joanna McClelland Glass manages to make the life of Francis Biddle--attorney general under FDR and later a Nuremberg judge--boring. The problem is the formula she chooses: "Crusty old patrician won over by secretary's gumption." This stale genre's conventions are apparent even to novices: he'll die at the end and she'll carry on, forever changed by their brief connection. And though there are a few clever lines, the only two I can remember are quotes from E.E. Cummings. Biddle's biography gets served up in chunks as he dictates his memoirs or, worse, when his secretary says, "But when you took the side of the coal miners you learned..."
Sandy Shinner's pedestrian staging does little to disguise the play's flaws. Still, the performances are almost worth the price of admission. Broadway veteran Fritz Weaver is perfect as the creaky, grouchy, but ultimately lonely and needy Biddle, giving Glass's flat character some complexity. And despite Kati Brazda's subordinate billing, she and Weaver are evenly matched. She handles the part of straight woman--arguably the more difficult of the two--with aplomb, and together they make the evolution of this unlikely friendship not only believable but touching.