The Review: The New Group’s The True
It’s clear from the first few moments of Sharr White’s dynamic political drama, The True that we are in the presence of some truly gifted actors in the prime of their game. Even the silently glaring Tracy Shayne (Broadway’s Chicago) as Betty steals our attention away from the pros upstage without even emitting one sound or word. She’s brilliant in her descent and ascension; perfection in 1970’s pink thanks to the brilliant costuming by Clint Ramos (TNG’s Downtown Race Riot). But the true powerhouse of the evening, without a doubt, is the woman behind the men, seen seated in the back neatly behind a sewing machine. The woman is Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, the real life grandmother of current United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand played heroically by the utterly brilliant Edie Falco (Broadway’s ‘night Mother), and at first glance she appears small and removed, but within minutes, we quickly realize quite emphatically that this is the person to pay attention to. She’s got more than just beauty enough, she has exactly what it takes to command this intimate and emotionally bonding portrait of gender and politics in the male-dominated world of 1977 Albany. Polly holds the drive and the smarts to make all the gears turn when and how she wants them to. I never did know about this woman and her real life story, but if this woman was around today, she wouldn’t be in the back row defending the Democratic Party machine, putting her weight behind the mayor, Erastus Corning II, played dynamically by the fantastic Michael McKean (Broadway’s Superior Donuts), she would be the leader out front dominating the room with the exact force that Falco brings Polly to blunt and profane-tongued life. But “Boo Fucking hoo” she would say to that, “Boo hoo hoo“.
As directed with a detail for direction and preciseness by Scott Elliott (TNG’s Good for Otto), The True fires forward on the drive and determination of Polly’s vision. The initial scenario erects all that is The True. Her loving husband, the non-political sweetheart, Peter, is played perfectly by always handsome Peter Scolari (Broadway’s Lucky Guy): “And I don’t hate politics, by the way. I just want nothing to do with it“, so he drinks scotch with his buddy, and tracks the conversation in and around Polly playing host and referee. It’s clear Erastus sees trouble ahead and feels unsteady with the future, but Polly has more to say. She’s the hard talking bulldozer of the group, pushing and shoving her men into action. She wants Erastus, her close friend for decades, to stay on as Mayor, even through his main ally within the party machine has died suddenly. All bets are off on who will take the reins, and even as Erastus tosses Polly to the side in a non-courageous act of survival, Polly doesn’t surrender. If times were different, it would be Polly at the helm, but these men don’t see her power like we do, so she does what she can from behind, and what she attempts on Erastus’ behalf is epic and demanding of our respect and praise. For Polly and for Falco.
Barely ever leaving the detailed stage design of living rooms and chauffeur-driven back seats, Polly’s version of the boardroom, designed with an easy and exacting flow by Derek McLane (TNG’s Sweet Charity), with warm direct lighting by jeff Croiter (TNG’s Jerry Springer – The Opera), and sound design and music composition by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Broadway’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Falco’s Polly takes on her and Erastus’s rivals with a foul-mouthed forceful glee, bowling them over one at a time. She derails their plans for change within the party power structure and installs her own vision in its place, all with a shrewd and entertaining manner. It’s going to be a fierce primary challenge, one that McKean’s Erastus has never had to deal with before, but as Polly makes the rounds, challenging those who think they have power, such as Howard C. Nolan, played neatly by Glenn Fitzgerald (NYTW’s Othello), and “Fuck that Fuckin'” Charlie Ryan, played distinctly by the wonderful John Pankow (LCT’s Dada Woof Papa Hot), we get a sense that none are Polly’s equal, although Ryan’s solid gruffness comes a close second.
The home life she has created is touching, and Scolari’s Peter is kind and engaging. He knows his position in her life, and quietly accepts his role. The few scenes together, especially when he keeps her company at the sewing machine, are warm hearted and understated, lovingly stitching the two together as a pair in need of one another. It’s a gorgeous touch, bringing their kindness and connection to center stage, all the while she pretends to be domesticated like a cat, but we all know how many lives a cat has, and how fierce one riled will fight. The piece shuffles along deliciously, mainly because of Falco’s blowout performance, but the Irish drama that involves the young Bill McCormick, played strikingly by the handsome Austin Cauldwell (TNG’s Intimacy) doesn’t really add much to the formation. It registers that the political world that encompasses loyalty and sacrifice that Polly loves and embraces with all her foul-mouthed heart might be slipping away into the past, but as a guest for dinner, Cauldwell’s Bill is quite a good laugh, even if it doesn’t leave your stomach full and satiated.
As written, by the gloriously talented White (The Other Place), The True is an actor’s dream, and the three leads, and most of the other secondaries, rise to the level that Polly demands. It feels solid and high class dynamic, making my companian exclaim as we walked out, “now, that was some true acting at its best!“. McKean and Scolari find the emotional core, but it is Edie Falco’s game that wins in the end. Even when she’s up against Shayne’s Betty and that icy glare.