How Much is True in “The True” at The Rep?
We are all accustomed to seeing people of note portrayed on the stage and in film. When the characters on the stage are people we knew or knew of on a personal level, it may become a bit unsettling. Such is the case, at least with this writer, of Sharr White’s “The True” currently at The Rep. The play centers around the late Polly Noonan, the woman behind Albany’s late Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd. Corning was one of the country’s longest-tenured mayors, serving for 42 years when the Democratic machine in Albany was this country’s second-longest-running and most powerful political machine, At the helm of the machine was Dan O’Connell. The play opens with the death of the 91-year-old O’Connell and the discussion of who will take over the reins of the party.
What we are told in the show’s curtain speech given by The Rep’s Producing Artistic Director and the show’s Director Maggie Mancincelli-Cahill is the name of the play is “The True” and not the Truth. We can assume that the play is both an amalgamation of fact and the author’s fiction. It is not meant to be a documentary. What is accurate is the portrayal of Polly Noonan, the grandmother of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, as the woman who pulled the strings behind the scenes of the Corning mayoralty. She would often say she has no power, she is just a grandmother. In today’s world, she would have been the mayor. She was forthright, loaded with conviction, and willing to manipulate whomever she felt necessary to be certain that Erastus got what he deserved, all for the betterment of the Party and the people of Albany.
Antoinette LaVecchia’s Noonan is a tour de force. She is as strong and vibrant on the stage as Noonan was off. Whether simply sewing culottes for her granddaughter Kirsten, mixing up Irish stew for dinner, extolling over and over to her husband Peter that she and Corning are nothing more than dear devoted friends, or berating Charlie Ryan, the other side of the party angling to become the new party leader and getting “his boy” Senator Howie Nolan into the Mayor’s chair at the next election, she never stops. On stage for the entirety of the play, speaking for most of it, and swearing for quite a bit of it, LaVecchia’s performance is worth the price of admission.
Mancinelli-Cahill’s direction is fluid and spot on. She manages to get the most from every one of her performers from the biggest role to the smallest part. Yvonne Perry, a Rep favorite as Corning’s wife Betty, who long suffered in the background about the whisperings in the City of her husband and Polly’s relationship, does more with her single scene of a walk across the stage to mix a drink, give a look to the goings-on in her living room with Noonan, and the Mayor, and continue off stage. She projects volumes about her character without ever uttering a word. Wynn Harmon as Polly’s meek husband and best friend of Corning is convincing, endearing, and sadly sympathetic.. Michael Pemberton as The Mayor plays a downtrodden and somewhat defeated man, willing to be led around by party bosses and Polly Noonan. He plays his role well, again, you feel a certain sadness towards this historic political icon. David Kenner as Sen Howie Nolan, and Jack Mastrianni as Bill McCormick whom Polly is attempting to show the ropes of Albany politics come across quite convincingly as soft and malleable compared to Noonan’s power. Finally, Charlie Ryan is beautifully portrayed by Capital Region veteran Kevin McGuire. He seems to be the only man in the group who has what it takes to be willing to come to the table that Noonan has set. If not able to beat her, he is able to match her vibrato, her fervor, and meet her, as a peer. Their time on the stage together is magic.
The Rep has assembled an incredible cast for their production of “The True” the performances are all stellar. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes and Michale Dunn’s wig design are perfect in recreating a bygone era. Roman Tatarowicz set design is somewhat vacuous and leaves you wanting more.
If there is an issue with the play it lies with White’s material itself. If you knew the players, you might do well to question the manner that which the charters have been written for the stage. We are served by a stage of predominantly weak men, who are all intimidated by an incredibly strong woman. While Noonan was as portrayed, I am not certain that all of the men were as mealy as presented. If you were not familiar with the cast of characters and their backstories, I did hear quite a bit of “who cares” from the people I spoke with after the show. It is an interesting bit of Albany history brought to life again for a few hours. It may not all have been as written, but then, what story is really ever. It is, after all, one man’s view of life in Smalbany back in 1977. It is an interesting journey in time and certainly worth your time to visit it again, or for the first time.
“The True” at The Capital Repertory Theatre through Saturday, April 24. Ticket prices range from $27-57. For more information call 518-445-7469 or www.capitalrep.org.