BWW Review: Edie Falco, Michael McKean and Peter Scolari Tackle Politics and Marriage in Sharr White's THE TRUE
Dorothea "Polly" Noonan, the real-life central character of Sharr White's new political drama, The True, was the grandmother of current United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. If times were different, she might have been in the Senate herself, keeping the seat warm for her.
Instead, she was regulated to "woman behind the man" honors, as a driving force that helped Albany's Mayor Erastus Corning II win so many re-elections that after taking office in 1942 he made himself at home until his passing in 1983.
As scripted by Sharr and played with salty command by the terrific Edie Falco, Noonan is a classic tough-talking, crafty politico whose heart belongs to public service, Albany's Democratic Party, and perhaps more to the man whose career she backed than to the man she married.
They year is 1977, and while New York City's Mayor Abe Beame battles Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo for the party's nomination, Corning is facing his first serious competition to become the Democrat nominee after the death of staunch supporter and party boss Daniel O'Connell.
Michael McKean offers a solid turn as Corning, humorous and dignified while crumbling on the inside. The play opens with the troubled mayor making one of his frequent visits to the home Noonan shares with her decidedly non-political husband, Peter (calming and grounded Peter Scolari). All three drink scotch; the guys seated at comfy chairs, Polly working at her sewing machine.
With party leadership up for grabs and young State Senator Howard C. Nolan (Glenn Fitzgerald) ahead in the polls, Corning decides to break off his association with Noonan, fearing the ever-present rumors that the two of them have been having an affair could do him in.
Corning's wife Betty has just one brief silent appearance on stage, but Tracy Shayne speaks volumes in the role.
The bulk of the play has Noonan working behind Corning's back to strike the necessary deals to keep him in in office. There's a great encounter between her and party loyalist Charlie Ryan (crusty, gutsy John Pankow) who's looking to position himself as O'Connell's kingmaking successor and a telling moment with a young colleague (Austin Cauldwell) signaling that her old-school brand of politics may on the way out.
While The True has a solid foundation and a valuable story to tell of a woman who influenced power in a time when she couldn't claim it for herself, the dialogue could stand a bit of sharpening and the scenes could use a bit of editing.
Director Scott Elliott mounts a fine production, but it's the chemistry between Falco, McKean and Scolari that keeps things interesting as they play out the emotional complexities of marriage and politics.