[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, September 21, 2018.]
The spine of Sharr White’s new play The True, produced Off-Broadway by The New Group, is the whir of a sewing machine. It’s the tool of the legendary Albany-based political activist Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, played with power and sensitivity by Edie Falco, and it’s also a practical symbol. The efficient whir underscores how she runs her home – in the same straightforward, hardworking, often profane, slyly humorous, deeply strategic way she worked for more than 40 years for and with the Democratic Party machine in the New York capital. Staged by director Scott Elliott and as executed by Falco’s delectable performance, Noonan’s homemaking skills did not diminish her political competence but underscored it, thus giving the White’s audience an intriguing American life to observe.
In the 1970s, political demonstrations and rising feminist empowerment tested many, if not all, of the established political “rules.” In the fictional 1977 Albany of The True, we examine ideas of loyalty, of faithful adherence to the way things have always been done, and how hard that is to change. In this context, White’s play parses the various meanings of “true” and “truth”: true believers in a cause? True blue faithful? Uncovered, unvarnished truth?
We enter the tightly controlled blue-collar sensibility of Albany’s political machine at a point of transition: the death of party boss Dan O’Connell, who determined ward bosses and council positions. Suddenly, both personal and political worlds are teetering. There’s Falco’s Polly, who balances her political work life with her home life with husband Peter (Peter Scolari); there’s the long-married Mayor Erastus Corning (stolid, haunted Michael McKean), who is reeling from the blow of O’Connell’s death, and Corning’s silent, mostly offstage wife (Tracy Shayne). And there’s party operative Charlie Ryan (John Pankow), who we meet late in the story and who possesses lurking, age-old grievances that he attempts to use to further his own political aspirations. Visits are personal and often late at night; doors are unlocked even to testy adversaries. All politics are local. All that’s local is political.