Politics, not quite the usual


Any chance you’re feeling cable news fatigue?

A terrific alternative is blazing in Sharr White’s new play, “The True,” at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

The fireworks do come from politics, but those of a distant, rowdy, bare-knuckle sort, as a longtime patriarch mayor faces a young challenger.

But with generous details of character, this production amplifies all the usual backroom territory. And with it, you also get the thunderclap of Edie Falco.

“The True” zeroes in on Albany, 1977, and on Erastus Corning II, in the only primary election of his 39-year tenure as mayor — a reign he shared with his longtime secretary and confidante, Dorothea “Polly” Noonan.

Under the sharp direction of Scott Elliott, this New Group production serves up a vivid rendering of a local legend.

The many real-life dimensions of the story add some extra context, but the considerable power of “The True” is far more than documentary.

There is an urgent immediacy here, and the production is graced by a top-notch ensemble led by Michael McKean, Falco, and Peter Scolari, who play, respectively, Mayor Corning, Polly Noonan, and her husband Pete.

The trio runs at full strength through a cluster of scenes where a rich backstory informs the conflicts of the present. The result is sensational. The cast thrashes out intricate moments that rise and fall, hover and loom, and then often spill over into electric spats of simultaneous crosstalk.

The principals are each saddled with a burden of a rumor, and thus forced to adapt to the longtime Albany controversy of Noonan’s devotion crossing the line from counselor to mistress.

The play takes a definite stand, one that may not resolve whatever true-life questions linger up the Hudson, but makes perfect sense for the author’s approach. Lifetimes of passion burst forth in explosions leavened by love and compromise.

Edie Falco gives a towering performance as an acerbic and profane kingmaker, who is both conscience and enforcer of the old-school machine’s grasp on Albany. She ventures forth to carry the message to those who threaten the Corning regime, and Tracy Shayne, John Pankow, Austin Cauldwell and Glenn Fitzgerald round out the cast in a vivid display of contrasts to Noonan’s ambitions.

“The True” displays a welcome economy. A sprinkle of references underscores the societal changes that threaten the Democratic machine, and the briefest mention of both Nixon and Vietnam are enough to evoke the era’s national realities.

A solid design team of Derek McLane (scenery), Clint Ramos (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lighting), and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design and music composition) support the lively flow of action in the cozy Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre.

Corning’s one and only primary election is the focus here, but “The True” is driven by much more than plot. With Falco’s Polly Noonan on her ferocious watch, the beauty in this play is to witness acting of such a direct, heartbeat emphasis as to transport you along, as the patriarch and his sidekick march on through the twilight of the party machine.