It’s clear from the first few moments of Sharr White’s dynamic political drama, The True that we are in the presence of some truly gifted actors in the prime of their game. Even the silently glaring Tracy Shayne (Broadway’s Chicago) as Betty steals our attention away from the pros upstage without even emitting one sound or word. She’s brilliant in her descent and ascension; perfection in 1970’s pink thanks to the brilliant costuming by Clint Ramos (TNG’s Downtown Race Riot). But the true powerhouse of the evening, without a doubt, is the woman behind the men, seen seated in the back neatly behind a sewing machine. The woman is Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, the real life grandmother of current United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand played heroically by the utterly brilliant Edie Falco (Broadway’s ‘night Mother), and at first glance she appears small and removed, but within minutes, we quickly realize quite emphatically that this is the person to pay attention to. She’s got more than just beauty enough, she has exactly what it takes to command this intimate and emotionally bonding portrait of gender and politics in the male-dominated world of 1977 Albany. Polly holds the drive and the smarts to make all the gears turn when and how she wants them to. I never did know about this woman and her real life story, but if this woman was around today, she wouldn’t be in the back row defending the Democratic Party machine, putting her weight behind the mayor, Erastus Corning II, played dynamically by the fantastic Michael McKean (Broadway’s Superior Donuts), she would be the leader out front dominating the room with the exact force that Falco brings Polly to blunt and profane-tongued life. But “Boo Fucking hoo” she would say to that, “Boo hoo hoo“.
As directed with a detail for direction and preciseness by Scott Elliott (TNG’s Good for Otto), The True fires forward on the drive and determination of Polly’s vision. The initial scenario erects all that is The True. Her loving husband, the non-political sweetheart, Peter, is played perfectly by always handsome Peter Scolari (Broadway’s Lucky Guy): “And I don’t hate politics, by the way. I just want nothing to do with it“, so he drinks scotch with his buddy, and tracks the conversation in and around Polly playing host and referee. It’s clear Erastus sees trouble ahead and feels unsteady with the future, but Polly has more to say. She’s the hard talking bulldozer of the group, pushing and shoving her men into action. She wants Erastus, her close friend for decades, to stay on as Mayor, even through his main ally within the party machine has died suddenly. All bets are off on who will take the reins, and even as Erastus tosses Polly to the side in a non-courageous act of survival, Polly doesn’t surrender. If times were different, it would be Polly at the helm, but these men don’t see her power like we do, so she does what she can from behind, and what she attempts on Erastus’ behalf is epic and demanding of our respect and praise. For Polly and for Falco.
Barely ever leaving the detailed stage design of living rooms and chauffeur-driven back seats, Polly’s version of the boardroom, designed with an easy and exacting flow by Derek McLane (TNG’s Sweet Charity), with warm direct lighting by jeff Croiter (TNG’s Jerry Springer – The Opera), and sound design and music composition by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Broadway’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Falco’s Polly takes on her and Erastus’s rivals with a foul-mouthed forceful glee, bowling them over one at a time. She derails their plans for change within the party power structure and installs her own vision in its place, all with a shrewd and entertaining manner. It’s going to be a fierce primary challenge, one that McKean’s Erastus has never had to deal with before, but as Polly makes the rounds, challenging those who think they have power, such as Howard C. Nolan, played neatly by Glenn Fitzgerald (NYTW’s Othello), and “Fuck that Fuckin’” Charlie Ryan, played distinctly by the wonderful John Pankow (LCT’s Dada Woof Papa Hot), we get a sense that none are Polly’s equal, although Ryan’s solid gruffness comes a close second.
The home life she has created is touching, and Scolari’s Peter is kind and engaging. He knows his position in her life, and quietly accepts his role. The few scenes together, especially when he keeps her company at the sewing machine, are warm hearted and understated, lovingly stitching the two together as a pair in need of one another. It’s a gorgeous touch, bringing their kindness and connection to center stage, all the while she pretends to be domesticated like a cat, but we all know how many lives a cat has, and how fierce one riled will fight. The piece shuffles along deliciously, mainly because of Falco’s blowout performance, but the Irish drama that involves the young Bill McCormick, played strikingly by the handsome Austin Cauldwell (TNG’s Intimacy) doesn’t really add much to the formation. It registers that the political world that encompasses loyalty and sacrifice that Polly loves and embraces with all her foul-mouthed heart might be slipping away into the past, but as a guest for dinner, Cauldwell’s Bill is quite a good laugh, even if it doesn’t leave your stomach full and satiated.
As written, by the gloriously talented White (The Other Place), The True is an actor’s dream, and the three leads, and most of the other secondaries, rise to the level that Polly demands. It feels solid and high class dynamic, making my companian exclaim as we walked out, “now, that was some true acting at its best!“. McKean and Scolari find the emotional core, but it is Edie Falco’s game that wins in the end. Even when she’s up against Shayne’s Betty and that icy glare.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Ruth Stage’s “Lone Star” Guzzles Down Edgeless Revelations and Trauma at Theatre Row NYC
By Dennis W
Hey, grab yourself a six-pack and head out to Angel’s Bar (at NYC’s Theatre Row) where Ray, Roy, Cletis, and Elizabeth will meet you in the backyard. It’s just a place to hang out, where tired old lawn furniture and a few milk crates hiding in the scrub go before they retire to the junk pile. It’s the early 1970s, and there isn’t much to do in the backwater town of Maynard, Texas, as a matter of fact, the town almost disappeared not too long ago.
The main players, Roy and Ray, in Ruth Stage’s Lone Starwritten by James McLure (Original Adaption by Ruth Stage) seem to be the brothers. They exist here, living out a dark comedy about a psychological casualty of war who comes home. It begins with a substantial monologue and mini-concert by Roy’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Ana Isabelle (Off-Broadway’s I Like It Like That). She is trying to save her marriage to her high school sweetheart, a former soldier who came home from Vietnam two years ago and suffers from PTSD (which was not even acknowledged by the military until the 1980s). Isabelle gives an adequate performance but it feels very odd that she is alone on stage talking about how her husband’s condition has and is affecting her, him, their life together, their family, and their strained marriage. What’s odd is that when she’s finished she leaves, not to be seen again, until just before the final curtain.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Have You Begun Dreaming of It Yet? (PART I)
What else – White Christmas, of course!
December is jampacked with great entertainment, so I hope you’re caught up on your shopping, because there are lots of treats for you this month. Here’s a stockingful of events that you shouldn’t miss.
If you’re looking for probably the most glamorous gift of the season, drop by Doyle Galleries to at least look at The Ellin and Irving Berlin Sapphire and Diamond Ring. Bidding is estimated to begin at $200,000 at the December 14th auction.
Jason Henderson kicked off the month reprising his highly acclaimed latest venture, Getting to Noël You at Don’t Tell Mama on the 4th. If you missed this evening, don’t worry – he’s back by popular demand—same time, same location—on January 24th and February 11th. It’s quite a curious and fast-paced ride he takes us on, and it’s one not to be missed.
The York Theatre has delivered a mitzvah–just in time for Christmas. Billed as a Musical Comedy of Biblical Proportions, The Jerusalem Syndrome certainly lived up to expectations. You must see it to discover the meaning of the title, which is fact, not fiction.
While this has been in development for several years, the skilled midwifery of the York brought forth a little bundle of joy that had the audience laughing at its humor and touched by its message. Sensitive to the current Middle East conflict, the York bravely went ahead with the project, which affords everyone a chance to marvel and understand the miracle that is Israel.
It’s running through the end of the year—visit the York website https://yorktheatre.org for more info.
Urban Stages has announced its “2023 Winter Rhythms” series, the award-winning music festival at Urban Stages Theater (259 West 30th Street – between 7th & 8th Avenues).
It began with a gala on December 6 entitled “Nights at the Algonquin: A Celebration of The Oak Room Supper Club,” featuring many legendary cabaret performers including Natalie Douglas, Boots Maleson, Steve Ross, and Daryl Sherman. Hosted by Michael Colby (author of The Algonquin Kid), the evening began with a champagne and wine reception followed by the show at 7:30 with a post-show gathering to follow.
On Sunday, December 10 at 3pm “Created at the Algonquin: Songs from Musicals Written at The Algonquin,” featuring performances by Craig Bierko, Shana Farr, Jenn Gambatese, Anita Gillette, Jon Peterson, Steve Ross and others. The program will be directed by Sara Louise Lazarus with Michael Lavine directing the music.
As part of the festivities, Shana Farr will reprise her glorious Barbara Cook tribute on the 16th. Ice Cream,. Anyone?
Everyone’s favorite is Karen Mason, whose show Christmas! Christmas! Christmas! is one night only at Birdland at 7 pm on the 11th.
Stay tuned for Part II for Christmas romance, tradition, and good will!
T2C Talks to Patrick Olson About Emergence
Patrick Olson, is a musician-scientist and now a performer with his own show Emergence, Off-Broadway at The Pershing Square Signature Center through January 7, 2024.
T2C talked to this prolific artist to learn more about what seems more like a movement and a unique experience.
See t2C’s review here.
Emergence: Things Are Not As They Seem: Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street through January 7th. Tickets and information: emergenceshow.com
Video by Magda Katz
Off Broadway Girl Talk Madwomen of the West
Right now at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street is the New York premier of Sandra Tsing Loh’s Madwomen of the West. The show in a way reminded me of the 1996 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, where celebrities joined on stage. Here you have Caroline Aaron, Brooke Adams, Marilu Henner, and Melanie Mayron, all actors who have performed on film, TV and stage. They are like long lost friends, they are so familiar.
The four have gathered together for Claudia’s (Mayron) birthday. It is being thrown at the Brentwood home of Jules (Adams) and Marilyn (Aaron) has decorated. Enter the long lost Zoey (Henner) and what you think you know about these friends, isn’t what it seems. As a matter of fact, this birthday brunch is about to turn into the brunch from hell. These Baby Boomers, are also feminists admiring Hilary Clinton and Gloria Steinem, though not always on the same side. They break the 4th wall, as they banter back and forth to themselves and to us, the audience. They confront, encourage, justify and talk about transgender, health, the horror of Trump and those “pussy hats”, sex and so much more. Think “girl-talk” to the max.
They sit on couches, as a backdrop of palm trees, and a lone piñata take center stage, thanks to set designer Christian Fleming. The play has no money, so the production is bare bones…. so they say. Everything about this show is tongue and check and is well directed by Thomas Caruso.
Each actor here shines and in an out of the way aside, each has pieces of their real selves written into the roles they play. Not having seen Aaron on stage before, I was impressed by her vocal quality and humor. Adams brings sophistication and Mayron adds that knowing, we are all in the same messed up boat. Henner will make you want that body and her sex appeal.
These women knocked down doors for the women to come, but I was surprised that the one issue they missed out on was that women are still not equal in this country. It takes 1, count it 1 state to approve this and yet plays about feminism leave this vital information out.
The show ends with “The Bitch is Back.” they sing in glee. I guess it is ok when we call ourselves that.
Madwomen of the West: The Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street through December 31.
“Stereophonic” at Playwrights Horizons Sings Solidly
It’s July 1976, in a recording studio in Sausalito, CA and we are being invited into a space that only a select few get to visit, let alone witness. This is art in the making, pure and simple, with ego and love, getting mixed and faded in through the process most musically. In Playwrights Horizons‘s magnificent new play, Stereophonic, written most delicately by David Adjmi (The Blind King Parts I and II), a band on the cusp of greatness has assembled, and they are tasked, casually and with great intent, to something magnificent and meaningful, a lasting piece of musical art, to follow up their last album that has become, over the timeframe, a breakout hit.
The play is exceptionally well framed and constructed; both musical and meandering, in the best of all possible ways, yet somewhere inside Adjmi’s engaging Stereophonicand its three-hour running time, a deeper level of contextual art formulation is unpacked quite beautifully. It saunters forward, with a complicated level of exhaustion, angst, and inspiration, unearthing something that almost defies expectations and compartmentalization. It’s a 1970s rock saga, clearly modeled on the legendary Fleetwood Mac and their dynamic backstage friction, that leans into and plays with the problematic relationships within this unnamed band as they try to create magic behind a glass wall, while also trying to fulfill their emotional needs in the confines of the studio and real life.
It’s all emotional breakups and reconciliations, with a layer of bored and sleep-deprived banter; around a broken coffee machine and the annoying reverberations of (not only) the drum. It’s electric and conflictual, playing havoc on every one of these characters’ insecure hearts, while offering up no grand solutions or final product. Stereophonic is all about the tiny details and the little frustrations that grow and become emotional cannonballs bent on destruction, leveled and defused out of an undercurrent of love and need for creation. It is incandescent in its artful construction, displaying and writing about a realm few of us can understand. It’s the agony and ecstasy that lives and sings inside the magnificent creative process of musicians, arts, singers, and writers, who hear aspects that most of us can’t understand, let alone hear or comprehend. And we have been invited in, to bear witness to its creation, in all its meticulously dull and exhausting detail. Giving light to the darkness of the process, and how art can both create and destroy those involved in its coming to life.
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