"The God Game," a super play onstage at Mad Cow Theatre, opens on the anniversary of a Virginia senator and his wife. It's election season, and an old family friend comes to call with shocking news: A presidential candidate wants the senator as his running mate.
That senator is Tom, played by Brian Brightman, who sports the same hairstyle (or lack thereof) as Florida Gov. Rick Scott. We soon find out Tom belongs to our real-life governor's political party. But the Republican differs from Scott, and the fictional GOP politicos of the play, in a few key beliefs.
For one, Tom thinks the government should be doing more to fight climate change. He sees it as a critical economic and security issue. (Scott, you might recall, drew national ridicule after state workers said his administration had an unofficial ban on using the term "climate change.")
But more disturbing for a party that depends on the religious right for support, Tom isn't sure he believes in God. His devout wife, Lisa, is equally troubled by his crisis of faith.
Here's where playwright Suzanne Bradbeer shows her skill. Her characters can't be summed up in generalizations. She doesn't demonize the Republicans. She doesn't mock the religious. Everyone is sincere. Everyone is flawed. Everyone is human.
And that's where Bradbeer impresses even more. For although politics are discussed, highly amusingly at times, this isn't really a play about politics. It's about character and honor, and especially relationships — between a husband and wife, between work and home life, between principle and duty, between the living and the dead.
At Mad Cow, Bradbeer's writing is complemented by Tony Simotes' sure-footed direction and three strong performers. Brightman never overplays the emotions but shows us Tom's tenderness, anger, ambition, pride and grief. As Lisa, Cynthia Beckert expertly balances her character's idealism and pragmatism: You believe that she loves her husband and her God.
T. Robert Pigott plays Matt, the family friend and political emissary. Matt seems a potent mix of optimism and self-assuredness, but Pigott carefully lets his pain flicker through until an eventual emotional confession.
Some might say the play's final scene is too pat. But I saw the conclusion as the natural result of Bradbeer's strong, consistent writing. These are people with character, and they stay true to their principles and beliefs. Tom, Lisa and Matt are a pleasure to spend time with; the real-world political scene could use more like them.
'The God Game'
• What: A play by Suzanne Bradbeer
• Length: 1:50, including intermission
• Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays plus Wednesday, Nov. 16 (note that this Saturday's show, Oct. 29, will be at 3 p.m. instead of at 8); 3 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 20
• Cost: $40; $35 seniors; $30 military and student
• Call: 407-297-8788
• Online: Madcowtheatre.com
• What else: Playwright Suzanne Bradbeer will attend performances this weekend, Oct. 28-30, and participate in a post-show discussion with each day's audience