Secret Order, a compelling drama by Bob Clyman at 59E59 Theaters is a thriller about the medical industry. The playwright tackles some provocative territory with style and wit while crafting a timely tale about cancer research.
The story concerns William Shumway (Dan Colman), a brilliant, yet naïve biologist, who discovers a possible cure for cancer while working in relative obscurity at the university level. When Robert Brock (Larry Pine) the dynamic director of a renowned New York cancer institute learns of Shumway’s work, he decides to take the young man under his wing hoping Shumway’s theory might win him the Noble Prize that eluded him on two separate occasions. Brock’s single minded focus thrusts Shumway into the high stakes world of medicine and big business.
The play is a cautionary tale about the seductive nature of money and power with surprising twists and turns right to the end. Shumway quickly finds himself overwhelmed by the demands of his new position and talk of the Noble Prize. Aided by Alice (Jessi Campbell), a young ambitious lab assistant, he struggles to prove his theory, even as it appears to be falling apart placing him in an ethically challenging situation. When Dr. Brock decides to cut funding for the mature Dr. Saul Roth (Kenneth Tigar), who is nearing retirement, Roth proves to be a savvy adversary, and battle lines are clearly drawn.
The scientific drama layered with dense facts explores some powerful themes and ideas while moving along at a brisk pace. If the playwright doesn’t fully develop all the themes leaving some loose ends along the way, the journey is an exciting ride nonetheless with several gripping scenes charged with potent dialogue.
As the young scientist at the center of the story Dan Colman has a pleasant innocent quality and Jessi Campbell is good as his outspoken assistant with her own agenda. But there are two truly outstanding performances by the always dependable Larry Pine and Kenneth Tigar marking his return to the New York stage after a 30 year absence. Pine is an amusing marvel as the cynical Brock, cock sure of himself with all the right answers and not a moment to spare. Kenneth Tigar as the sly Dr. Roth, whose kind demeanor hides a vicious underbelly, reveals his true nature little by little, turning in a fascinating characterization.
Director Charles Towers has staged a captivating look at playwright Bob Clyman’s study of ambition viewed through the looking glass of the pharmaceutical business and Nobel Prizes. He sympathizes the ending a bit for my taste, but that may be a minor quibble. The smart evening moves along with razor sharp precision on a simple chrome and glass set by Bill Clarke that emphasizes the scientific nature of the proceedings.
Debuting in New York at a pivotal time when our national health care and medical ethics are continually being questioned, the thought provoking play demonstrates Mr. Clyman is a playwright of considerable merit and much talent. Secret Order is a stimulating reminder of the power of theater.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Secret Order is now playing at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison. For tickets call ticket central at 212-279-4200 or go to HYPERLINK "http://www.ticketcentral.com/" www.ticketcentral.com