A review of Suzanne Bradbeer’s “The God Game,” on stage at Taproot Theatre through Oct. 29.
Freedom of religion is embedded in the U.S. Constitution. But the document goes further to decree that in this nation “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust.”
When crafting that line, the founding fathers (many of them Deists who prized reason and nature over religious worship) must have anticipated the kind of modern conundrum faced by an ambitious but principled legislator in Suzanne Bradbeer’s “The God Game.”
Ensconced in Taproot Theatre’s small-scale Isaac Studio Theatre, this 90-minute work is more debate than drama. But it explores subjects in a three-way verbal match well worth pondering in our body politic — especially during an election season.
‘The God Game’
by Suzanne Bradbeer. Through Oct. 29, Taproot Theatre Company, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle; $25 (206-781-9707 or taproottheatre.org).
Under Carol Roscoe’s direction, David Drummond has the square-jawed good looks, the integrity and folksy charm essential to Tom, a decorated veteran and U.S. senator from Virginia. Tom is an increasingly rare bird; he’s a moderate-to-liberal Republican politico who believes in reversing climate change and promoting gay rights.
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He and his wife Lisa (an excellently witty, impassioned Nikki Visel) have a snappy, sexy rapport, and a partnership of intellectual equals. But while Lisa is a practicing Christian for whom religion is deeply meaningful, Tom is an agnostic whose faith was shattered after a personal loss.
The religious imbalance in their marriage is touchy, and private. But it rips wide open when the couple’s longtime friend Matt (a cagey Cobey Mandarino) turns up for a rare social call. Matt, an aide to Virginia’s right-wing governor, also has another, more pressing motive.
Would Tom, who disparages Matt’s boss as a leader of the “anti-intellectual, anti-gay wing of the party,” consent to run for vice president on a ticket with the governor in his bid for the presidency? When Tom hesitates, and admits his religious skepticism, Matt strategizes. Couldn’t he just “sprinkle a little God stuff here and there” during the campaign, despite his beliefs (or lack of them)?
Paying at least lip service to religious devotion, after all, is essential: “Better you had been a former drug addict than not believe in God.”
The invitation leads to the kind of realpolitik discussion of electoral tactics familiar to anyone who’s run for office, from high-school student-body president candidates on up, or listened to the prolix ruminations of TV political pundits.
But it also catalyzes a stimulating dialectical tug of war between the increasingly concerned Lisa and the two men, each with his own agenda, over the ethics of political expediency and the moral perils of inauthenticity.
In the increasingly sordid, topsy-turvy Trump-Clinton race for the nation’s highest office, sexual misconduct and hacked emails are high on the political Richter scale — with religion registering barely a tremble.
Nevertheless “The God Game” is astute in its recognition that, despite the constitutional framers’ edict, religion lurks in the political background. And in certain times and races it leaps into the foreground: a religious “litmus test” still exists, and the evangelical Christian voting bloc is a force to be reckoned with (and pandered to).
“The God Game” yields a great deal of intelligent discussion on the various dimensions, historical and contemporary, of Tom’s dilemma: accept the offer and work from within to create change, but alienate his wife? Or take the high road, and step away from the compromises required?
In its final throes, the talky script runs low on rhetorical steam and suspense, and ends rather too neatly. Also, the backstory about Tom’s gay brother, and its political parallels, is an underdeveloped motif.
But this kind of neo-Shavian theater-of-ideas is laudable at a time when political discourse often boils down to slogans and speculations at the expense of genuine dialogue about constitutional and personal principles.