“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….”
— First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It’s always fun to attend a game, especially when it’s well-played, when all of the players go all out, when every aspect of the game is at its best. Likewise, it is always a privilege to attend a regional premiere of a show. And it is a distinct privilege when the show is as well-crafted as this one. Under June Guralnick’s direction at Sonorous Road Productions, Suzanne Bradbeer’s The God Game approaches perfection on every count.
The script raises poignant issues and encourages us to consider them from every angle. The dialogue is brisk and free-flowing. At times, it is witty and extremely funny. At other times, the dialogue draws us deeply into the psyches (and the souls) of the characters. The characters are incredibly well-written and well-performed — we care about them from the get-go, and we believe in them from start to finish.
Tom is married to Lisa. Several months ago, Tom’s brother Jay died in a car crash. Matt, who had been Jay’s longtime lover, had broken up with him not long before the accident. Matt had been an important part of this close-knit family; but, after a brief appearance at Jay’s funeral, Matt has been completely out of touch with Tom and Lisa. Now he shows up unexpectedly on their 15th anniversary with an important offer.
Lisa is a devout Christian who is heavily involved in a women’s shelter. Tom is “the junior Senator from Virginia” (with a “68 percent approval rating”). One of his pet issues is climate change. Matt is an advisor to Steve Jenkins, a presidential candidate.
Jenkins will be accepting his party’s nomination in a few weeks, and Matt has arrived to ask Tom to run for Vice President. The problem: Tom is an agnostic, and Jenkins is a right-wing Republican. Tom’s faith (or lack thereof), which Tom considers to be a private matter, will definitely become an issue, a very public issue.
Tom’s intense integrity will not allow him to be fast-and-loose when the political climate inevitably forces them to play “the God game.” He will not be able to force himself to, as Matt suggests, “sound more Christian.” And, as deeply as Lisa loves Tom, she will not be able to live with any compromises that he might find himself forced to make.
As closely and intensely as we feel for (and feel with) these characters, we also feel the very real presence of Jenkins (who never appears), Jay (who makes silent, peripheral appearances), God (who is ever-present), and — get ready for this — Richard Nixon! (Barry Bonds also makes a brief cameo.)
The Sonorous Road Theatre is an ideal venue for a show that is this intensely personal. The thrust stage with audience on three sides keeps the action right in the audience’s collective lap. The set, co-designed by Jeffrey Nugent and Miyuki Su (and built by Nugent and Nora Kelly), is a well-crafted representation of a room that would double as Tom’s office and the family’s living room. In addition to the minute attention to detail, this set has a strikingly unusual aspect: its four walls encompass the entire space. The audience is literally “in the room” with the characters, even closer in than the proverbial flies-on-the-wall.
Liz Grimes Droessler’s lighting design affords subtle, yet thorough changes as the onstage moods shift. The set includes a flat-screen television of each of the four walls, and these are also used masterfully (in addition to occasional video projections) by video designer Neill Prewitt to enhance the show. Several local people appear on “news shows” on these TV screens to discuss the political issues raised by the play.
The program does not credit a costume designer, but we feel compelled to tip-the-hat to the character-appropriate choices. Lisa, especially, looks stunning in all of her outfits.
As praiseworthy as we found all other aspects of this production, it is the acting that definitely is this game’s Most Valuable Player. David Hudson is a very believable “devout agnostic” as Tom. He is committed to his work in the political arena, but he is not willing to compromise himself in any fashion. There are no “ends” that could possibly justify that “means.”
It is poignantly obvious that Tom has a great love and compassion for his wife, his deceased brother, his friends, his work, and his principles. Speaking of being Christ-like, there is a scene in which the biblical reference to “the fall of a sparrow” is quite enlightening (Matthew 10:29). Hudson plays it with aplomb.
Courtney Christison’s Lisa comes across as totally committed to her husband, her ideals, her God, and herself. Christison expertly conveys the character’s internal conflicts as well as her ambivalences toward the issues raised in the play. There is an especially heartwrenching moment when we found it difficult to fight the urge to “break the Fourth Wall” and hand her a tissue.
Beau Clark gives us a Matt who loves his work and is good at what he does. He admits to “spinning” the facts, but he never comes across as doing so for any reason other than for the general good. We learn that, at one time, “everybody” (gay and straight) had a crush on Matt; and Clark’s Matt is charming enough to make that totally believable.
Points worth noting: 1. Matt is gay. 2. Jenkins had once referred to homosexuality as “an abomination.” 3. Matt works for Jenkins as a political promoter. However, Clark’s delivery of Matt’s explanation is easily digested; and we felt no dissonance.
Kyle Mears’ appearances as Jay can be described as “cameos.” Suffice it to say: he breathes life into the role of this dead man.
The Department of Picky-Picky wants to applaud the fact that the set has not one but two doors. To see why that is worth mentioning, go to the show — we can’t adequately explain the importance. We also noticed a similarity between Matt’s name and that of the couple’s daughter — Maddie. Coincidence? We think not.
DoPP would like to suggest that Jay’s downstage appearances should come just a little bit further into the room. We were sitting in the front row. We only noticed one of these appearances but later learned that is was not the only one. And other front-row spectators missed even that one.
The God Game plays through Feb. 17th. This is a regional premiere that should not be missed! We advise early arrival. The preshow audio is well worth an extra 15 or 20 minutes, and it leads in perfectly to the audiovisual with which the show begins.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 4th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8337; and Feb. 1st Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-god-game/Event?oid=5101247.
Sonorous Road Productions presents THE GOD GAME at 3 p.m. Feb. 5, 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11, 3 p.m. Feb. 12, 8 p.m. Feb. 13 (Industry Night), 8 p.m. Feb. 16-18, and 3 p.m. Feb. 19 at Sonorous Road Theatre, 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $18 ($15 students and seniors).
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://sonorousroadtheatre.com/get-tickets.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://vimeo.com/201031033.
June Guralnick (director): http://www.juneguralnick.com/June.htm (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3302381/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/june.guralnick (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/guralnick (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.