“Secret Order” – Actors Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 8, 2010


Actors Theatre, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Cancer’s cure has eluded scientists for years. Discovering that cure is at the heart of “Secret Order,” a fascinating new play by Bob Clyman now at Actors Theatre in a supercharged production that is fantastically engaging and thought provoking.

William Shumway, a young researcher, has found a way to get cancer cells to self-destruct. He thinks his experiment is worth pursuing and his research leads him to a job in a prestigious New York cancer research institute headed by the pushy Robert Brock. Ever the entrepreneur, Brock sees a Nobel Prize in the research. Shumway knows his initial work requires more work before he tries it in animals to see if it might work in humans. When word gets out about the research, Alice Curiton, a perceptive Harvard University student, wants to work with Shumway. 

Brock pressures Shumway to present his findings at a seminar. Before the seminar, the researchers discover problems with the experiment but Brock still urges Shumway to continue with the presentation by only releasing evidence that establishes the cure.

This plot establishes discussions about medical ethics, how medical research projects are reported, and individual integrity. Clyman’s thoughtfully developed script provides fascinating insights into these probing topics. The play’s conclusion doesn’t resolve the dilemmas but allows audiences to use Clyman’s clues to figure out their own resolutions. You will leave “Secret Order” thinking about many possible scenarios.

The Actors Theatre production is tautly staged with galloping pacing by Matthew Wiener and it features four flawless performances. Cale Epps captures Shumway’s cautious intelligence as he attempts to slow Brock down and get the time he knows he needs to properly research his findings. No less brilliant is Mark DeMichele who instills Brock with amazing energy and drive as winning the cure at any cost becomes his sole goal.

In smaller roles, Jessica Weaver gets Alice’s intelligence and this character’s ability to guide Shumway into new ways to look at the research. David Vining outwardly joking Saul Roth, a research institute scientist whose discovery days and energy are closing down, still possesses amazing insight into reality. Jeff Thomson’s harsh set provides the multiple locales so that the play’s action can move swiftly and efficiently.

“Secret Order” provides fascinating insight into medical research and the goals of various people in this important field. It continues through March 21. For tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or go online at www.actorstheatrephx.com.

Grade: A