Look, she even sews.
That’s what fans of Edie Falco will note at the start of “The True,” a new Off-Broadway play about real-life political fixer and Albany legend Polly Noonan. In the first scene, we see Falco, as Noonan, arguing with the city’s longtime mayor (Michael McKean), sassing her husband (Peter Scolari) and all the while seated at her sewing machine tending to the hem on a garment.
“I’ve been sewing for years, it’s just what I do when I have time,” says Falco, whose grandmother Edie — “the original Edie Falco,” as the actress puts it — was a seamstress in East Northport.
So imagine Falco’s amusement when the producers came to her a few weeks ago, explaining how they’d arranged to get her sewing lessons and practice time on a sewing machine. “I was like, ‘Naaah, I’m good,’ ” she says.
That response is typical Falco. Direct. No-nonsense. You can still hear something of the Long Island left in her. Which is perhaps what helps make her, and her characters, seem so relatable. Even when they’re popping Percocet (“Nurse Jackie”) or married to the mob (“The Sopranos”) — or in the case of Noonan, defying expectations of how a woman should behave.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Written by Sharr White (a writer and producer on Showtime’s “The Affair”) “The True” is inspired by actual events. But the New Group production, which opens at the Pershing Square Signature Center on Sept. 20, sounds more like fiction. Which is what Falco and director Scott Elliott thought it was when they first read the script.
The tale follows Dorothea “Polly” Noonan in her efforts to help re-elect Erastus Corning II in 1977, despite a surprise underdog challenger, and persistent rumors that she and Corning (who were each married to others, though often inseparable) shared more than a love of politics.
Corning was one of the last of the big-time political bosses, a Democrat who served as mayor of Albany for an astounding 41 years.
“Corning was the only political legend I met in my entire life,” said the late Dominic Baranello, a state Democratic chair and Suffolk County Democratic chairman at the time of Corning’s death from heart failure in 1983.
Newsday’s longtime political reporter and columnist, the late Dick Zander, wrote at the time that the political machine in the state capital (which helped nominate Harry S. Truman in 1948 and elect John F. Kennedy in 1960) was very real, “less a myth in Albany than anywhere else in the state other than in Nassau County.”
But, less was written about Noonan, who worked tirelessly for Corning for decades, first as his secretary, later as a political consultant and personal confidante.
“She was a powerful and forceful woman at a time when women weren’t allowed to be that way,” says Elliott. “She would’ve been the mayor if it was a different era, no doubt.”
She certainly inspired those who knew her, like her granddaughter Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has referred to Noonan as “my greatest political hero.”
Noonan, who served as vice chair of the Democratic State Committee and (for 30 years) president of the Albany Democratic Women’s Club, died in 2003 at age 87. She was by all accounts a dedicated, salty-tongued woman who took no guff from the men around her. That comes through loud and clear, in what is a loving depiction of her, though much of the playwright’s dialogue and situations are fictionalized.
“It’s such a fun character,” says Elliott. And Falco seems tailor-made for the role, he adds, noting how the actress’ natural warmth offsets her character’s sometimes coarser demeanor.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Sitting on a couch in a lounge outside the theater and wrapped in a suede shearling coat, Falco leans forward as she recalls growing up in West Islip and Northport. Those were the days when her grandparents owned a bridal shop in East Northport. Her mom was an actress; dad, a jazz drummer. She still gets back to the Island frequently, and this summer brought her son, Anderson, 13, and daughter, Macy, 10, multiple times to the beach at Robert Moses State Park, where she frolicked as a child.
“We [live] in the city, but goin’ out there, with the giant concession stand, and it’s crowded and people are smokin’. . . ” Her voice crackles as she bites into those words and drops g’s. “It just feels so like home.”
The four-time Emmy Award winner has gotten used to being recognized on the street, but it doesn’t stop her from taking the subway, or hitting the beach.
“You can either play into the whole celebrity thing, or not,” she once said in an interview. “And if you don’t, you don’t get treated like one. It’s a very simple thing.”
That plain-spoken attitude almost sounds like Noonan, the latest in a long line of characters — tough-as-nails, fantastically flawed — that Falco has become known for.
“I tend to gravitate toward these women who don’t spend a lot of time caring about the way they come across,” says Falco. “They’re more concerned with making their way, getting stuff done.”
She admits to being more self-conscious.
“It’s fun to play these women who just get out of their own way when it comes to expressing themselves.”
More than fun, it’s therapeutic, she says, to play women like Carmela Soprano, Jackie Peyton, Polly Noonan. Inhabiting these characters, sometimes for years (“The Sopranos” lasted 10 seasons; “Nurse Jackie,” seven), has helped her lighten up when it comes to her own self-censoring tendencies.
“Part of it is just growing up, part is being a parent,” she says. “A lot of things chip away at this idea that you have to stay hidden. Because the truth is, you can’t really control, nor can you ever really know, what anyone else thinks about you. And it’s unclear to me why it should matter.”
Surely Noonan would agree.