IF YOU GO
What: Agnostic Republican senator offered vice-presidential slot if he "sounds more Christian"
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. 3 p.m. matinees on Jan. 19, 25, 26; Feb 1, 2, 8 & 9.
Where: Norris Community Center, 755 Eighth Ave. S., Naples
Cost: $33 - $49
Information: 866-811-4111 or gulfshoreplayhouse.org
Post-show talkbacks: Talk to playwright Suzanne Bradbeer about God, gays and the GOP after the 8 p.m. Jan. 23 and 3 p.m. Jan. 26 performances
On the Web: More theater news at The Stage Door blog
More: Tell 'em you read this on naplesnews.com!
Kristen Coury wants to create a conversation. Gulfshore Playhouse’s latest play should spark one.
It’s got everything.
Everything but guns, the third fiery rail of hot-button Republican issues.
“I want to change the face of politics in this country,” Coury declared in an interview a few days before “The God Game” opened Wednesday in downtown Naples.
The brand-new play, Gulfshore’s first world premiere, finds a moderate Virginia senator facing the possibility of being tapped for the vice presidency. Playwright Suzanne Bradbeer imagines him, in an ironic twist, an agnostic.
If you’re following, that’s a Republican vice president who doesn’t believe there’s a God. Cue the howls. And someone call Ralph Reed, with Tony Perkins on speed-dial.
“The God Game” argues politics, morality, emotions, elections, relationships, sexuality and above all — truth. Be ready for a “Crossfire”-style evening at the Norris Community Center, where the play opens this week.
“It’s the struggle,” Bradbeer said, explaining what interests her in this scenario. “Delicious and difficult conversations.”
Inspiration sparked from various places, Bradbeer said, such as watching “self-confessed maverick” John McCain maneuver through the 2008 primaries.
“He seemed to slide around on torture,” Bradbeer said of McCain. “For me, it went to the personal. What do you believe? What do you say in public? In private?”
“God Game” gives Tom the opportunity to be elevated one heartbeat from the presidency — only the agnostic Old Dominion politico must “sound more Christian.”
The character is modeled on former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. Webb served as President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy and was one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats during his term.
Bradbeer was attracted to Webb because of his military background and his ability to chart a centrist course; she calls Tom an “aspirational Republican.”
On one side, pushing Tom toward the opportunity of a lifetime, is his old friend, Matt, a gay aide to the presumptive presidential nominee. On the other, Tom’s holy-roller wife, Lisa, who sees the world in absolutes.
“I don’t want to preach to the choir,” Bradbeer describes her trio of characters. “I write to spark a conversation.”
FAITH AND POLITICS
“The God Game” tackles gay marriage and the influence of the Christian right head-on.
“The two issues are intertwined,” Bradbeer said. “The religious right uses gay marriage to say homosexuality is a sin.”
For Bradbeer, the sheer volume of noise in politics can derail any attempt at an intelligent conversation.
“Liberal Christian values are hidden by the loudness of the Christian right,” she said.
While politics frames the story, Tom and Lisa’s marriage grounds the show. “The most interesting thing is the personal,” Bradbeer said. “This marriage may blow open at any time.”
“It’s a play of ideas but also a play about emotions and relationships.”
Nobody knows how the play will, well, play in deeply conservative Southwest Florida.
“I don’t know,” Coury admitted.
“That’s what theater is for,” she added. “That’s my job. Let’s introduce some serious hot-button issues and examine them.”
One thing she does know: faith and politics should never intersect.
“Our founders were very smart in saying they should be separated,” Coury said.
DO THE RIGHT THING
At its heart, “The God Game” seeks truth. Each character wrestles with a hidden truth and the possibility of betrayal. Coury reaches — like Bradbeer — for “aspirational” to describe “The God Game.”
“We want to make the grandest piece of theater we can make,” Coury said. “I would love for this piece to be an aspirational piece, for people to think about what their priorities are and what we as nations should do to make our political systems work.”
Coury offers up a quote often mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela in deciphering the play’s ultimate message: “Playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
Those words actually come from activist Marianne Williamson; for Coury — and her characters — the message is about people “stepping up to large opportunities.”
“The God Game” contains a host of opportunities. Can Tom find a path toward a vice-presidential future? Can Matt, the conflicted aide, navigate difficult political and personal crosscurrents? Can Lisa broker peace and keep her personal honor?
“When you had an opportunity to say yes, did you say it?” Coury asked. “We need people to step up and serve the universe.”
Days before “The God Game” drops onto Neapolitan audiences, Coury and her cast hope to do just that.