Theater Review: ‘The True’ at Pershing Square Signature Center

By Jonathan Spira on 16 October 2018
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Dorothea “Polly” Noonan died on November 14, 2003. She had retired in 1973 after nearly four decades of service to the New York State Senate and had also been a major force in the Democratic Party, having served on the National Democratic Committee and as vice-chair of the N.Y.S. Democratic Committee.

In “The True,” Edie Falco, star of “The Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie,” is galvanizing as Polly, in a story loosely based on the real-life character.  It’s 1977 and Polly is the advisor to and long-time confidante of Albany’s 11-term mayor, Erastus Corning II (played so realistically by Michael McKean).  Corning has lost his footing as he mourns the loss of his mentor, 92-year-old Daniel P. O’Connell and faces his first primary challenge in decades, while Polly is rarin’ to go out and campaign.  [The real-life Mayor Corning died in office in 1983 after first having been elected in 1942.]

Corning and O’Connell typify the idea of a political machine where voters find an envelope with $5 in it on election day and the ward leader takes care of these voters from cradle to grave (if they are Democrats, that is). Stubborn and foul-mouthed Polly is exactly the type of politician you’d expect to find in a smoke-filled back room, except for the fact that she’s a woman, a fact that her fellow pols of the 1970s don’t seem to know what to do with.

The machine took care of widows and ne’er do well neighbors with pensions and patronage jobs. The local committeemen knew what every housewife and her family were having for dinner “because we were eating it with her.”

Because she’s a woman, her platonic relationship with Corning (who’s also the best friend of Polly’s long-suffering husband, Peter, played brilliantly by Peter Scolari, is the subject of innuendo and rumor.

With the nomination of the Democratic Party open to question thanks to a poll that shows the oily Howard C. Noland (Glenn Fitzgerald) ahead by a two-to-one margin, Polly does not let up.

“If somebody wants my opinion,” she snaps, “I’m going to give it,” causing her husband to reply, “Usually, even when they don’t want it.”

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, this is the stuff that plays are made of but, while “The True” does an excellent job of providing an insider’s look at how political machines operate (the Albany political machine at the time of Mayor Corning was one of two remaining such political machines in the United States) as well as the inequality with female apparatchiks in the machine were looked upon. It’s only the passion that Falco brings to her character that keeps the play – which at 105 minutes feels twice as long – moving at all.

THE DETAILS

The True
Limited Engagement Through October 28
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 W 42nd Street
New York, N.Y.
Runtime: 1 hr. and 45 min.
www.thenewgroup.org

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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