Good writing, good acting and good direction — not much more you can ask for in an evening of theater, and that’s what Square One Theatre Company delivers in its production of Suzanne Bradbeer’s “The God Game” under the direction of Tom Holehan. This is the season for openings at theaters here in Connecticut – I’ve been to several and have three more scheduled for this week — but, so far, this two-act play has been the most engaging. It’s an intelligent look at the world of politics and, even more important, a look into the hearts and souls of three people who struggle to maintain their beliefs and their integrity.
The play is set in the suburban Virginia home of Tom and Lisa. Tom (a tremendously convincing David Victor), is the junior senator for the state and Lisa (an engaging Danielle Sultini) is his wife. It’s their wedding anniversary, and Tom has, almost, agreed to go to church with Lisa. Their plans are disrupted by the arrival of Matt (an intense Kiel Stango), who is one of the political operatives working to get the Republican candidate for the presidency elected. He is also the former lover of Tom’s brother, who died a year ago in a car crash. Yes, it sounds like the stuff of a soap opera, but it isn’t, because Bradbeer deals with ideas and emotions that run deeper than that.
Matt has shown up to see if he can get Tom to agree to be the vice-presidential candidate, to balance the ticket. Of course, Tom will have to be vetted to see if there are any skeletons in the closet. Tom is essentially a straight-arrow – the only problem might be his religious convictions, for although Lisa is a devoted Christian Tom is an agnostic.
What follows is an intriguing exercise in the discussion of values and, in the current political climate, the challenge to say what you believe rather than what is politically expedient (or simply not true). This may all sound a bit pretentious, but it isn’t, because Victor, Sultini and Stango deftly create flesh-and-blood characters who, as we all do, wiggle on the hooks of moral choices, prejudice and the quandary of achieving personal gain (and power) versus maintaining a sense of dignity and, well, being true to yourself.
As the senator, Victor gives us a man who is tempted to make a devil’s bargain, and the actor does so with a great deal of style and grace, and with body language and intonation conveys the internal dilemma Tom faces. As Tom’s wife, Sultini is not a simple, born-again Christian – she believes in God but also believes in her husband and fights to have him be the man she knows him to be. Stango, playing the political activist, a dedicated ‘spin doctor,’ the front man for the presidential candidate, must, over the course of the play, face certain decisions he has made, especially with regards to his homosexuality and his relationship with Tom’s brother.
“The God Game” is essentially about the games those in politics must play, but it’s also about the games they must play – or choose not to – with their own beliefs. In essence, the play is about integrity, or the lack thereof, and goes well beyond red-state-blue-state antagonisms. The simple set designed by Robert Mastroni is dominated by a portrait of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. It’s an iconic reminder of our country’s basic values and the decisions – most of them wise – that they arrived at after contentious discussions and bitter debates.
“The God Game” is presented on a single set in a relatively small theater (which limits, to a certain extent, the actors’ movements), but the size of the theater and the lack of bells and whistles doesn’t matter, because Victor, Sultini and Stango ably create characters that you care about – you care about their trials and tribulations, the decisions they must make, and the personal relationships that affect those decisions. Thus, the senator’s final moments, with his wife by his side at a press conference, tell us all we need to know about his character and the values he has opted to uphold. Quite simply, this is good theater and well worth the trip to Stratford to be given the opportunity to think about what we are not willing to sacrifice – no matter the possible gain.
“The God Game” runs through November 18. For tickets or more information call the box office at 203.375.8778 or go to squareonetheatre.com