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A CurtainUp Review
The Secret Order
By Elyse Sommer
Judging from the two other plays by Bob Clyman that CurtainUp has reviewed, he is a playwright with a penchant for setting up suspenseful psychological situations. His contribution to EST's fourth First Light Festival dedicated to science & technology related plays takes us behind the scenes of a prestigious research institution in New York.
You may not come away much wiser about just what medical researchers do with their test rabbits and how they compute their findings, but neither does the techno talk and the occasional scribbling on charts make this a for science majors only play. Instead The Secret Order is a fast-paced, entertaining psychological drama. Think of those weekly ethics columns in the New York Times Magazine but with the dilemma expanded and those on its horns made concrete and lively. Given our current headlines in which neither church, state or industry are exempt from scandal, Machiavellian doings in the medical establishment are all too easy to believe.
Clyman builds his situation around a brilliant, totally dedicated and socially naive young cell researcher, Dr. William Shumway (Liam Craig) who seems on the verge of having discovered the cure for cancer. His work comes to the attention of the Dr. Robert Brock (James Murtaugh) who, having missed winning a Nobel Prize twice, is now bent on using his post as chief administrator and fund raiser of Hill Matthiesson Institute to make it the fulcrum of scientific research. Brock sees Shumway as the means to this end and lures him away from his Michigan lab with an irresistible offer. And so, as the idealistic Mr. Smith of the famous golden-olden movie went to Washington, young Dr. Shumway heads for New York. The rabbits in his new lab cooperate promisingly and the possibility of a Nobel Prize that Brock tantalizingly dangles before him moves closer to reality.
While Shumway is all business -- or to be more accurate, all rabbit tests -- he does find time to befriend Alice Curiton (Amy Love), an eager and ambitious research student. To the playwright's credit he does not gussy up his play with a phony romantic development, though Alice does represent a major element for both conflict and resolution. The play's fourth character to get in the way of Dr. Brock's plans is Saul Roth (Joel Rooks), the Institute's chief of surgery whom Brock, in a tactical error, treats as a superfluous has-been.
The playwright does a good job of structuring the play into twenty-six short scenes that segue from high hopes, to dashed hopes (when some of the rabbit experiment develops troublesome and inexplicable flaws), to desperate compromises. In the interest of maximum enjoyment I'll omit plot details even though the choices made and the climax are, like Clyman's previous plays, fairly obvious.
What makes The Secret Order worth seeing are its well delineated characters, their expert portrayals by the actors and Jamie Richards' fast-paced direction. The simple production values typical of EST prove that less can be more than enough with an attention-holding script and strong performances.
LINKS TO OTHER PLAYS BY BOB CLYMAN
The Lower Cortex
When The Bough Breaks
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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