The 2014 version of The God Game begins, appropriately enough, with a tease. An attractive blonde stands in an oval office, slowly stripping as a handsome salt-and-pepper-haired man sits in his upholstered, high-back executive chair typing on the laptop resting on his wood executive desk. They tease, she smolders, and he looks on half-guiltily in his appreciation. By the time she saunters to him and bestrides her colossus, nearly tipping the chair ass-over-teakettle, the last thing I expected to hear next was “Happy anniversary, Dear.” Divorce rates will plummet if this catches on.
Before much can happen between the two to push the play to an “R” rating, his laptop plays the “You’ve got mail” sound, and he is deep into a meeting. She stands, gathers her clothes, and pouts that he promised to go to church with her Sunday. Garish, loud elevator music punctuates the end of the scene.
The teasing opening sets up the dynamics of The God Game, and highlights what the play is at its core: the story of two unicorns. Tom (Laurence Lau), the handsome salt-and-pepper-haired senator from Virginia with his own oval office, is that rarest of all creatures, a Republican, pro-gay-rights, pro-environment, climate-change-believing, non-God believing politician who really does love his wife as passionately as he loves his country. Tom’s an intellectual who quotes Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon with as believable ease as I would Beatles’ lyrics. Tom is the Grand Old Party’s answer to John Kennedy without the serial adultery, or Mitt Romney with a soul not despoiled by the phoniness spawned from the loins of big-money corporations’ inbred corruption. Tom is an ideal in tailored slacks.
Lisa (lovely Yvonne Perry), the come-hither wife, strips as well as she quotes scriptures, and she’s an ardent believer in both. She jousts with her husband, arouses him, challenges him, and then prays for him. “We live in a world full of phonies and chickenshits,” she states. Her faith is as thoughtful as it is true. A Christian able to love God, her husband, and her fellow humans equally is as rare as a unicorn—especially in depiction onstage. Tom says, “She is so self-righteous, and I mean that in a good way,” and he does, and it is.
So when two unicorns mate, is it farfetched to think that the White House be far behind?
Suzanne Bradbeer’s crisp new play, The God Game, plays with myths, dares to challenge a modern audience to believe that a politician can have a soul, except he does not believe in God. It’s a polemic that believably earns laughs even as it challenges what we’ve seen Christians devolve to. At least in The God Game, there’s one Christian left who puts Jesus and his teachings before Christ and his sufferings.
So when estranged old college friend Matthew (Jeffrey Binder) pays an unannounced visit, he has more than “happy anniversary” on his mind; as the chief political consultant for the latest Republican homophobe presidential candidate, who better to balance the ticket than the brilliant Virginian senator with a gay brother and a brilliant but righteously sexy wife? The kicker arrives when Tom comes out of the closet about his nonbelief. Lisa sums up the polemic surrounding Tom: “Better to have affairs, lie about your military service, send pictures of your penis around town than not believe in God.”
The God Game’s foundation is the believability of its acting trio; the laughs, tears, and fireworks come not just from the text, but from how sincere, earnest, afraid, and joyful the three appear. Portraying unicorns and those sad people who promote politicians who denigrate their promoters (Matthew is a “Log Cabin Republican,” a gay man championing those who would deny his rights) is no easy act, but Binder, Perry, and Lau create a rainbow prism through which to see our politics.
Capital Rep’s 2012 Next Act stage reading of The God Game happened four days before that year’s presidential election; the emotions generated swelled in my reaction to The God Game and its selection as one of the 10 best productions of the year. “Timely” was too timid to describe the effect, but “tepid” is more than adequate to sum up the stage reading’s last moment. Two years of work later, the 2014 ending galvanizes. It’s got a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington earnestness that even a jaded, dyed-in-his-red-wool-union-suit-left-of-Jesus Democrat theater critic got misty-eyed over. Playwright Bradbeer makes a final appeal to the better angels in our nature, and even if the panderers in the news media don’t reflect those angels, I believe in Tom’s appeal to not politicize God, and I have faith in Lisa to keep Tom true as she smiles in beatific splendor as the applause begins. May The God Game be the start of a beautiful election year, or at least a reminder of what politicians can be, with a little help from their creators.