ALBANY, N.Y. -- Tom, the central figure in Suzanne Bradbeer's three-character political drama, "The God Game," is a rising star in the Republican Party.
In this age of vicious intra- and inter-party political partisanship, he is almost too good to be true -- a decent unassuming man of principles, a GOP centrist who believes, among other things, that climate change is real and needs to be dealt with.
From the vantage point of the Republican presidential nominee, Steve Jenkins, a midwestern governor in the style of Ronald Reagan, Tom (a sincere, cleancut Laurence Lau in the competently mounted production Bradbeer's play is being given at Capital Repertory Theatre), the junior senator from Virginia, is the ideal choice for the No. 2 slot on the ticket. Accordingly, Jenkins has dispatched one of his top aides, Matt (Jeffrey Binder), an openly gay longtime friend of Tom and his wife, Lisa (Yvonne Perry), to persuade Tom to go on the ticket with the proviso that he be just a little "more Christian" in his public pronouncements; a particular challenge for Tom who responds by telling Matt that not only are his religious beliefs a private matter, he is, in fact, an agnostic.
Tom's agnosticism is a fact of life that Lisa, who runs a shelter for runaway teenage girls and whose belief in God is deeply held, has come to accept, albeit grudgingly and not without hope of moving him in the direction of belief.
Lisa speaks her mind. Her concerns about Tom joining the ticket are clearly formed. She has seen what can happen to decent men and women of principle inside the crucible of presidential politics. And when it comes to her belief in God and Jesus, she will brook no compromise; no lies. In a key moment in the play, Lisa delivers an ultimatum to Tom that makes clear just how high the stakes will be for him should he join the ticket. Too bad that moment, built around the issue of just how far Tom might be willing to go to sacrifice his agnostic belief for the sake of political gain, comes too late in the play to give "The God Game" the dramatic anchor it so desperately needs.
To her credit, Bradbeer has given us an earnest play about three decent people of integrity who are wrapped in the playwright's bordering-on-naive belief that decency and goodness have a chance of asserting themselves in a political system in which the odds against decency prevailing are formidable. Lisa's concern about what happens to good people caught in a potentially damaging system is a compelling question that might have made for compelling drama. The absence of a cynical voice is refreshing but, in return, Bradbeer gives us little heat and even less dramatic intensity.
"The God Game" plays like a catalog of issues with dialogue that smacks of social and political posturing; campaign soundbites that overwhelm -- with the notable exception of Perry's well-rounded, smartly crafted Lisa -- dimensional character development. Lau and Binder are effective but only to the extent Bradbeer allows.
In the end, "The God Game" feels like an intellectual exercise in search of a play.