WHAT "The True"
WHEN | WHERE Through Oct. 28, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
INFO From $40; 212-279-4200, thenewgroup.org
BOTTOM LINE Edie Falco is on fire in new play that puts Albany politics under a microscope.
If you want a refresher on the intricate machinations of party politics in Albany, look no further than Sharr White's "The True," now getting its world premiere from the New Group. Edie Falco and her castmates will enlighten you.
The actress, who grew up in West Islip and Northport, is on fire as Dorothea "Polly" Noonan, a real-life character — emphasis on character — whose behind-the-scenes manipulations on behalf of Erastus Corning II, mayor of Albany for 41 years, are the stuff of legend. Loud and foul-mouthed, Noonan worked tirelessly to keep Corning in office, even after persistent rumors of a relationship beyond the political forced a breakup that is at the heart of the play.
White has meticulously researched this intriguing drama (though emphasizing in interviews that his account has its fictional elements), but never for a minute did it seem anything but real — and director Scott Elliott makes it as entertaining as an episode of "House of Cards." Falco is born to play the role, one more tough cookie in a long line of don't-mess-with-me women we've loved since the reign of Carmela Soprano. We first see her at her sewing machine, where at one point she's making culottes for her granddaughter Kirsten (we know her as New York Senator Gillibrand).
Her husband, Peter (Peter Scolari), and Corning (Seacliff-raised Michael McKean) are gathered around in the homey, cluttered living room (set by Derek McLane) in what's clearly a familiar tableau. On this night, they're talking about the day's news — the death of Democratic leader Daniel O'Connell — and how it might play into the approaching mayoral race as Corning faces a primary for the first time.
Some may consider this dry docudrama, but political junkies will be riveted by Falco's gritty, earthy Polly, wheeling and dealing for all she's worth. Her confrontation with party boss Charlie Ryan (John Pankow) is a frightening lesson on how elections get won — and lost.
But timeout on the politics. The guts of the play is this almost inexplicable relationship, which Polly describes as a "ménage a trois except all of the bad parts and none of the good." Exactly what's going on romantically between the married mayor and Polly is only hinted at (in real life, they always denied an affair), but when Corning cuts ties with his confidante, it seems that Peter, missing his dearest friend, suffers almost as much.
No spoiling the resolution here, though history books make a lot of it pretty obvious. The play ends as it began, with the three main characters back in the living room, sitting in wordless contemplation. And, yes, there is much to contemplate.