BWW Review: THE GOD GAME at Square One Theatre

BWW Review: THE GOD GAME at Square One Theatre

In the throes of our polarized political society, Square One Theatre has boldly opened their 29th season with the highly charged play, THE GOD GAME, by Suzanne Bradbeer. Although this Pulitzer-nominated play was written in the pre-Trump era, its exploration of the role of religion in politics and its central question of how much one is willing to compromise his or her convictions to get ahead in political arenas is still relevant today. Unfortunately, because this play focuses on only one side of the political divide, it can be particularly grating for those who look at politics from a different perspective.

The GOD GAME focuses on a successful moderate Republican Junior Senator, Tom (played by David Victor) and his devoutly Christian wife Lisa (played by Danielle Sultini), who happens to run a shelter for women. On their wedding anniversary, a day that the couple usually spends away from the demands of work and government, they are visited by an old friend Matt, (Kiel Stango) who was the estranged lover of Tom's late brother.

Matt did not show up at the house to celebrate their anniversary however. He was there to offer Tom the opportunity to be the Vice-Presidential candidate with a more conservative running mate. Despite the fact that Tom does not fully endorse the platform of this unseen Presidential candidate, he is thrilled to have the opportunity.

By Matt's standards, the biggest hurdle Tom has to face is that ever since the demise of his brother, Tom does not really believe in God. Tom is a non-practicing Christian who leans more toward not believing and feels that his belief system is a private matter that should not have any place in his political life. Matt points out that Tom would never win the election without some proof of his Christianity, saying the solution is to throw the word 'Jesus' around and pepper his speeches with a few Biblical quotes and references. Because Christianity is such a big part of who she is, Lisa threatens to leave Tom if he lies about his belief. We don't find out what Tom is going to do until the end of the play.

The cast is well suited to their particular roles. David Victor is convincing as the well-intentioned Senator who is trying to balance his job, his love for his wife, and his grief about losing a brother all at the same time. His excitement at the prospect of running for Vice President is palpable. Kiel Stango also works well as the outsider with the political agenda. He is convincing as a manipulator of words and seems so adept at political maneuvers that I never doubted that he is successful in his chosen political field. Danielle Sultini also aptly portrays Lisa, fully evincing her love for her husband as well as her disappointment that he no longer shares her devotion to the church. Her devotion to the church and her connection with her husband is so strong that when she issues the ultimatum about her marriage, the audience knows that Matt has met his match in the struggle for Tom's soul.

The modest set by Robert Mastroni and costumes under the coordination of Gaetana Grinder and Kerry Lambert work well with play. Everything about these characters speaks moderation - they are regularly dressed and the office in which the action takes place is moderately furnished - nothing ostentatious to say that these are people of great wealth or stature. Special praise should also go out to Clifford Fava for lighting and Dan Henault for sound - especially in timing all of the phone calls that a busy senator and campaign aide would be receiving at the start of an election season.

With these actors and production staff under the always skillful direction of Square One Theatre's Tom Holehan, this production should be a blockbuster hit but unfortunately for me, the play fell flat. It is not because of the actors or director but for the play itself.

My biggest problem with this play is that I never connected with these characters to care much about how they resolved the issue at hand. Like Tom, I believe in the separation of church and state and that a person's relationship with God is a private matter. Living in a world of evangelical extremism, I am wary of characters like Lisa who wear their righteousness on their sleeves. Tom is a proponent of environmental reform but was considering throwing his hat in with a party of climate deniers. Although a gay man, Matt still works for a candidate who said that "homosexuality is an abomination." Matt and Tom's convictions are already easily discarded for political gain. The larger, more compelling, question is why? How are we supposed to feel about the compromises politicians make in order to get votes? If these larger issues had been addressed, I feel like this could have been a more powerful play.

THE GOD GAME runs through November 18 at Square One Theatre in Stratford.

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From This Author Cindy Cardozo

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