How often have we heard "Behind every great man is a great woman"? It's demeaning, considering that no great woman should ever have to be behind anyone. Of course, the dynamic has been playing out for years in political circles, and it's compellingly depicted in "The True," a beautifully-acted drama about the real-life relationship between a longtime mayor of Albany and his closest aide.
It's 1977. Mayor Erastus Corning II is running for re-election to his 10th term in office. Part of the entrenched Albany political machine back then, Mayor Corning happened to owe a great deal of his success to Polly Noonan, a shrewd Democratic operative and the bluest of party loyalists.
Being a woman in the male-dominated political arena was certainly a liability, but she never let chauvinism hold her back. And, in fact, she was a foul-mouthed no-nonsense spitfire who refused to suffer fools no matter how high up the food chain.
Edie Falco's nuanced portrayal of this scrappy woman is quite stunning. She's an iron fist in a tough leather glove — velvet doesn't quite come to mind. Yet, playwright Sharr White gives his lead character a quick wit and soft enough core to make Polly's abrasiveness quite endearing.
The rest of the company is equally talented. Michael McKean's Mayor Corning is no slouch. His 42 years in office earned him the title of longest-serving mayor in American history, yet it's clear they had a symbiotic relationship that enhanced both careers.
John Pankow in a small role delivers big as Corning's cynical rival Charlie Ryan. And Peter Scolari is brilliantly understated as the devoted husband behind the driven wife.
Some may find "The True" rather dense, delving perhaps too deeply in the political weeds. But the bravura company directed by Scott Elliott produced a terrific character study of New Yorkers we should know and remember. FYI: Polly Noonan was the grandmother of Kirsten Gillibrand, New York's junior senator. It's a poignant post script to the story of a fascinating woman who deserved to take her own place out in front.