By Sharr White; Directed by Scott Elliot
Produced by The New Group
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 10.28.18
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
by Lexi Orphanos on 9.17.18
Michael McKean, Edie Falco, and Peter Scolari in The True. Photo by Monique Carboni.
BOTTOM LINE: In the world premiere of the New Group's The True, Edie Falco raises hell in her portrayal of real-life Democratic Party superwoman, Dorothea “Polly” Noonan.
At first glance, Polly (played by Edie Falco) is the typical grandmother of the late '70s: she sits at her sewing machine, bantering with her unassertive husband Peter (Peter Scolari), and a guest—Erastus Corning II (Michael McKean), the current mayor of Albany. The scenic design by Derek McLane fills the space with wood finishing, a printed orange kitchen with kitschy vintage charm, and assorted elegant accents. But contrary to the stereotype of the meek woman sewing while the men talk business, Polly not only makes the pants in her home, she also wears them. With the approach of Erastus’ much feared primary, Polly talks like a regular Harold Hill, brimming with confidence and belief in perfect charismatic rhythm. She bowls Erastus over with her plans and inner-circle jargon, bubbling over with passion for the Democratic Party—a passion that even he cannot rival.
While Sharr White's The True seems at first like a standard "inside politics" play, mapping the journey to Election Day, the piece is much more about the private lives of two couples (real-life figures from upstate New York) who happen to be involved in public life. Beneath the political tension lies an even more powerful, red-hot connection between Polly and Erastus. The town gossips about an affair between the two, horrifying them as public figures, but exciting them in the most private chamber of their hearts. The two have a deep, complicated love for each other, so when Erastus decrees that they can no longer be associated, Polly knows that his coldness can only be an affirmation of his guilty conscience.
Wanting to speak up in her own in defense, Polly instead clings to her belief in Erastus’ primary campaign, proving her fierce loyalty in the face of public shame. Unsurprisingly, Edie Falco dominates this role with her signature dry humor and every expletive that could be spewed by an elegant woman in politics. Polly plays hardball, and stands by her ideals to the point of her own downfall. With shocking, sensitive, and increasingly athletic scenes depicting all of the emotional garbage that tumbles out “after hours” when the shoes are kicked off and the ties get loosened, The True cracks open a raw look at how little our approach to women in politics has changed in forty years.
Directed by Scott Elliott, White’s play dives headfirst into the unfairness and hyprocrisy in how women in politics were, and are, treated. When a woman has an opinion that she fights for, she’s “too much.” When Polly campaigns from house to house, she’s viewed as over the top...but none of the other candidates are putting in any of the real leg work to get what they want. In one particularly delightful scene, Polly and Peter host the bright-eyed Bill McCormick (Austin Cauldwell) for a traditional Irish dinner. He’s a new face on the scene, but Polly “goes to bat” for him and earns him a spot within their campaign. But before dinner is out of the oven, Bill blabs to Polly about how excited he is to move to California with his girlfriend, rendering all of Polly’s efforts pointless.
Polly is rejected by the male establishment of Albany, save her nervous husband Peter, who seems to be the only one who can’t get her going—for better or for worse. When she’s had enough of the mockery, Polly spills open, summing it all up with: “I care the same way everyone else cares, but I have a pair of tits so you don’t know what to do with me.” The True makes clear the slow pace of evolution within our society...but thanks to Polly's example, her granddaughter, Kirsten Gillibrand, is now a Senator representing New York.
(The True plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, through October 28, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2 and 7:30. Tickets are $30 - $125 and are available at thenewgroup.org or by calling 212-279-6400.)
The True is by Sharr White. Directed by Scott Elliot. Scenic Design by Derek McLane. Costume Design by Clint Ramos. Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter. Sound Design and Music Composition by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson.
The cast is Austin Cauldwell, Edie Falco, Glenn Fitzgerald, Michael McKean, John Pankow, Peter Scolari, and Tracy Shayne.