By Sandi Durell
Commitment, passion and loyalty to a cause, or a person, can be admirable. Taken to extreme, it’s downright ugly, crazy and inhuman. Welcome to The New Group’s The True, marking a return for playwright Sharr White in this blistering peek into politics and relationships set in Albany 1977.
It takes a while to warm up to what’s going on in the comfortable, book filled home of the Noonans, watching and listening to Dorothea ‘Polly’ Noonan (Edie Falco) at her sewing machine, her unassuming husband Peter seated in his comfy chair, and their dear friend Erastus Corning II, the Mayor, all drinking . . .and drinking as we try to make some meaning out of the overlapping babble. It’s surely not your usual gathering at 2 a.m. as a drunk Erastus (quiet and mild-mannered Michael McKean) talks about going home to his wife Betty, and the foul-mouthed viper Polly (as real as it gets, Edie Falco) unleashes her viciousness while her meek husband Peter (Peter Scolari) keeps pouring drinks. Erastus is duly upset that his position as Mayor (which he’s held for 35 years), and thought he’d hold forever “just like Daley in Chicago,” may be at risk now that his Democratic party chairman has died, leaving an opening for the unfriendly Charlie Ryan (a rough John Pankow), who is building his own party contingency, to challenge Erastus with another candidate, Howard C. Nolan (Glenn Fitzgerald), threatening the lifetime Mayoral job that Erastus had in mind.
The talk is fast, furious and overlapping (sometimes making it difficult to follow), the political rhetoric ugly (sound familiar?) made more so by Polly whose profanity knows no bounds in her unwavering support for her friend ‘Rasty’ (Erastus). But as we learn, he’s more than a friend as the two have had a romantic history together that never resolved.
Polly is a woman who can and does make things happen (she has little birdies everywhere) but is also frustrated as a woman in the political arena, challenging her male constituents while making life miserable for just about everyone in her path. Her verbal abusive language is astounding considering the time period.
Issues arise that speak to women who couldn’t compete with men on the same level at a time when it was unacceptable; probably why Polly speaks the lingo men are accustomed to using in dealing with their male counterparts.
Polly sets up a clandestine meeting with Nolan (the lawyer Erastus hired) as they drive around in the back of his car discussing Nolan’s plan of running against the Mayor, Nolan now supported by Charlie Ryan’s political machine. She pleads for him to drop out and is turned down by Nolan when he tells her he’d be running even without Ryan’s support. Resorting to her usual fiery expletives, Nolan counters Polly with his perspective on loyalty and voting one’s conscience as Polly attempts to give him a lesson that it’s all BS, because it’s really all about discipline, “. . . that if you stay true, you’re going to get your due!”
A young Bill McCormick (Austin Cauldwell) is brought into the mix when Polly thinks she can use him to her advantage. He becomes the metaphor using the younger generation, less passionate about politics, which she intends to change. When he reveals he has no intention of staying in politics, she characteristically unleashes her rage.
Scene changes are designated by Polly’s quick costume changes on stage (costumes Clint Ramos), as a backdrop modifies or a small desk or chair moves into place to transport to another location, i.e. Erastus’ or Ryan’s home to the credit of Derek McLane and Jeff Croiter’s lighting design.
There’s more interplay on a personal level between Polly and Rasty when she visits him at home, with Betty in the house, resulting in more frustration in having to keep at arms length.
A little peek into a time period of politics and corruption, love, frustration and the unusual female who occasionally made waves in a male dominated world.
Once again, Edie Falco rules whether on stage, film or television as a force to be reckoned with. Even more challenging for an actor, since Polly Noonan is not fictional, Falco played her so vividly, it felt like she created her.
Under Scott Elliott’ direction, this fine cast rises to the occasion. However, does Sharr White’s latest offering, which can be trying at times in its wordiness, offer any new insights or is it strictly meant to be a slice of time that reminds us that very little changes?
Photos: Monique Carboni
The True – extended through October 28 – The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center, Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42 Street NYC
Ticket Central: 212 279-4200 or www.thenewgroup.org