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Reading ‘The True’ in anticipation of fall theater season

By Patrick White

Special to InPlay Capital Region


“The True,” a book by Sharr White, is his imagined story of the 1977 Democratic Primary race for mayor of Albany, featuring historical figures Erastus Corning II, 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 distance for the cause even when she’s benched. It’s a bittersweet look at the waning days of machine party politics.


Edie Falco (“The Sopranos,” “Nurse Betty”) had 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 and starring Peter Scolari and Michael McKean. Thankfully, it is scheduled for the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany from Sept. 25 through Oct. 25, and though it wouldn’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.


The effect of the coronavirus on public events scheduled for the fall isn’t known yet, of course, but you can get a gift certificate or tickets at www.capitalrep.org or at (518) 346-6204 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.


Here is an excerpt from the first scene in the play on the evening of Albany Democratic boss Dan O’Connell’s death on Feb. 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 the next day; that mother would have a job. And you know who would get the vote next fall?


Peter: Democrats!


Dorothea: Democrats! For 35 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?


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 3. OK? You’re losing

third ward. Why’s that? The blacks. Because who aren’t they related to? The Irish! A Ward

3 mother’s 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 3 mother doesn’t have anybody to turn to, because whoever the (expletive), Hurkus McGurkis, doesn’t bother to know the people in his ward because, well, 30 years ago it was Irish and all he knows is Irish people, of which there are maybe 15 left in all of Ward 3, and he won’t get to know any blacks.


Well, whose fault is that? Thirty years ago, the ward leader would show up, walk the kid out of the station house and see him home. But not now: This black kid is (out of luck). And that Ward 3 mother? Who’s she voting for? Let me tell you who. Nobody (expletive) 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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