Reading “The True” in Anticipation of the Fall Theater Season

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The True” by Sharr White is his imagined story of the 1977 Democratic Primary race for Mayor featuring historical figures Erastus Corning II and his longtime aide and confidante Dorothea (Polly) and her husband Peter Noonan. It teases you with revelations about their rumored decades-long affair but at heart, it is a nuts and bolts look at a woman who will work tirelessly for her candidate yet who will always be on the sidelines, a fierce portrait of a woman who will go the whole ten yards for the cause even when she’s benched. It’s a bittersweet look at the waning days of machine party politics. 

Sharr White

Edie Falco (“The Sopranos,” “Nurse Betty”) had a major success playing Polly off-Broadway in the Fall of 2018. Jesse Green of The New York Times said of her Polly “She is so hard driving that she often zooms straight off cliffs of propriety, then keeps going on pure momentum and somehow lands safely on the other side. Whether arm-twisting the competition or lighting a fire under the patrician Corning, she is the model of the cynically uncynical type who makes no distinction between dirty politics and true belief. Whenever Ms. Falco is bringing these themes to the fore, especially in her scenes with rival politicians played by Glenn Fitzgerald (as Howard C. Nolan) and John Pankow (as Charlie Ryan), “The True” is riveting.”

It should have had a longer life than the limited New Group run directed by Scott Elliot also starring Peter Scolari and Michael McKean. Thankfully, it is scheduled for Capital Repertory Theatre this 9/25-10/25 and though it won’t come with this starry cast, the frisson between the events onstage and the city in which it is set should make for some electrifying nights of theater.

You can get a gift certificate or tickets at www.capitalrep.org or 518-346-6204. The play is available at Dramatists Play Service, www.dramatists.com.

Michael McKean, Edie Falco 
Photo by Sara Krulwich/New York Times

Below is an excerpt from the first scene in the play on the evening of Dan O’Connell’s death, 2/28/1977.

Dorothea: ‘Rastus, the whole organization’s slipping. Used to be, a, a…a man gets crippled on the job, say? Or God forbid, dies? Whatever? Say, leaves a mother with three children? By God that funeral would get paid for. Committeeman would come by the house next day, that mother would have a job. And you know who would get the vote next fall?

Peter: Democrats!

Dorothea: Democrats! For thirty-five years, people would say Dan O’Connell in one breath, Erastus Corning with the next. You as mayor, him as Party Chairman. I didn’t want to bring any of this up, thought you could see it yourself, but maybe you can’t.

Erastus: See what.

Dorothea: That people? Regular people. They don’t give a shit what you do behind closed doors so long as their lives are working. But their lives aren’t working any more. Committeeman. Used to know every. Single. Voter. In his district. Every single one. That voter had a problem, they told the committeeman, the committeeman went to the ward leader, the ward leader either solved it? Or went to Dan. And you know what happened at the end of the day?

Edie Falco, Michael McKean, Peter Scolari
Photo by Sara Krulwich/New York Times

Erastus: It got taken care of.

Dorothea: It got taken care of. Now all people can see is committeemen with no-show city contracts who don’t even care what their name is. Look at Ward Three. Okay? You’re losing Third Ward. Why’s that? The blacks. Because who aren’t they related to? The Irish! A Ward Three mothers got a problem? Kid with potential, some kid the committeeman should know – let’s say the kid gets hassled by a cop, lands some trumped up charges to teach ‘im a lesson, that Ward Three mother doesn’t have anybody to turn to, because whoever the fuck-Hurkus McGurkis-doesn’t bother to know the people in his Ward because, well, thirty years ago it was Irish and all he knows is Irish people, of which there are maybe fifteen left in all of Ward Three, and he won’t get to know any blacks. Well, whose fault is that? Thirty years ago, ward leader would show up, walk the kid out of the station house and see him home. But not now: this black kid is fuckin’ fucked. And that Ward Three mother? Who’s she voting for? Let me tell you who. Nobody fuckin’ knows. When we were all doing our job, Erastus, we knew what she was having for dinner. You know why? Because we were eating it with her. This is why you almost got whipped in ’73.

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