By: Isa Goldberg
September 20, 2018: The first time I saw Edie Falco on the screen, in the 1999 black and white indie, Judy Berlin, it was an arresting experience. Beyond the eerily dark story of loneliness and alienation in a Long Island suburb, there was Falco in the titular role, cheerily, and awkwardly challenging the status quo, with her dream of being in the movies. In its way, it was a cuttingly comic performance.
Time, as the long-suffering mob wife in The Sopranos, has smoothed over Falco’s unusual and odd presence, on stage and screen. In her current role as Polly in The True she expresses gravitas, albeit with her own edge.
Written by Sharr White, this new play, directed by Scott Elliott of The New Group, is similar to White’s earlier works, The Snow Geese and The Other Place, as it studies complex characters in a state of crisis. In The Other Place, a neuroscientist, (played by Laurie Metcalf, on Broadway), faces dementia; and in The Snow Geese, the family matriarch, (played by Mary-Louise Parker), and her sons face a changing economic tide.
Here the focus is on the urban political machine in Albany, in the 1970s. As reported by a feature article in The New York Times, Personal Loyalty. Political Whispers and Edie Falco, the play is based on the 1977 Albany Mayoral Race in which the incumbent, Erastus Corning 2nd won, in spite of his waning popularity.
Sharr White’s play, while based on historical figures, including Polly Noonan, who sustained her influence even though she never held office, mingles historical truth with fiction.
As Noonan, Falco appears to be a benevolent character, fiercely loyal to the mayor, and equally committed to her husband. Peter (Peter Scolari), and she relish their mutual friendship with Erasmus (Michael McKean). And the three of them coexist gracefully, while the rumors of the Mayor’s and Polly’s dalliance swirl around them.
While the play questions the nature of the relationship between Erasmus and his long-time secretary, Polly, it remains simply that, a question. Dramatically, the relevant issue is that Falco’s Polly needs McKean’s Erastus, in her life. And she won’t let go.
As Albany politics goes, Falco is a committed player. She doesn’t shy from the dirtiness of political game playing, she may even instigate it. But she doesn’t evoke demagoguery or tyranny. When Mayor Corning fires her because the rumors about them are thwarting his run for reelection, she continues to work on his behalf. She will do anything for the mayor, as she righteously believes that they are the cornerstone of the party, and the community.
Regardless of the crimes they commit, which include buying and selling votes in the mayoral election, these are characters with whom we empathize. Their time-honored practices seem to have sustained a healthy enough society. But when does that stop being “True”? In that respect, the title and the message are ambiguous.
The well-seasoned cast are all credible, and engaging, including Glenn Fitzgerald as Howard C, Nolan, the candidate who, historically, challenged Corning in the Democratic primary, and lost. And Austin Cauldwell portrays an intern who really doesn’t want a life in politics. That character appears to be fictional.
Derek McLane’s scenic design seizes on the tastelessness of 70’s interior design. Indeed, tastelessness speaks to the bigger picture, as the righteous Mayor reports early in Act I, “I’m going to stay mayor, just like Daley in Chicago.”
The True ***
The New Group @ The Pershing Square SIgnature Center
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Running Time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission
Performance Schedule is
September 4 – October 21, 2018
Tuesday at 7:30pm
Wednesday at 2pm* and 7:30pm
Thursday at 7:30pm
Friday at 7:30pm
Saturday at 2pm and 8pm
Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm*
*Sundays at 7:30pm performances on 9/16 and 9/23; Wednesdays at 2pm on 9/26, 10/3 and 10/10
For Tickets & More Information Click Here
Photo: Monique Carboni