Order’ delves darkest corners

We harbor a false sense of security about many things in our society. Among these is the faith we put in the medical community because we entrust our lives to them. We expect the highest moral standards – the pursuit of medical salvation of humanity.

Enter The Alley Theatre’s production of Bob Clayman’s biomedical thriller Secret Order, a cynical drama that preys upon our preconception of the medical community as a tightly knit group of scholars who work together for the well-being of mankind. More accurately, it’s a competing business complete with the ethical shortcomings begotten by pragmatic self interest.

The play follows the story of Dr. William Shumway (Dylan Chalfy), a brilliant young research scientist who designs a radical new approach to fight cancer. He is quickly hired by an esteemed cancer research facility, the Hill-Matheson Institute, under the directorship of the charismatic Dr. Robert Brock (Larry Pine), an individual whose cutthroat politics characterize his existence in the viper nest that is the Hill-Matheson Institute and may very well be the medical/scientific community at large. In Dr. Brock’s bid to garner more prestige for himself and the institute by taking Dr. Shumway and his revolutionary new idea in, he cuts the projects and ultimately the career of an esteemed and crafty colleague Dr. Saul Roth (Kenneth Tigar), who is then bent on using the system for his own brand of retribution.

Sucked into the whirlwind of chaos between Brock and Roth’s battle is Shumway, trying to make an honest effort at finding a cure for cancer but influenced by the promise of the Nobel Prize, getting published in esteemed medical journals and by Brock and Roth themselves.

Alongside Shumway works an eager intern, Alice Curiton (Melissa Miller), who will stop at nothing for success. She presses Brock to allow her to intern with her pragmatic view of science – "There is no right or wrong, good or evil. This is a war, and we are in it to win. That is the kind of science I want to do!"

Not a typical "biomedical thriller," Secret Order is not a genetic monster movie or a slasher-scalpel flick; it is insight into a world we invest most of our trust in where the elements of greed, pride and corruption are just as real as they are in government or business.

Veterans of the Broadway production of the play, Pine and Tigar, are electric with their characters’ confrontational aggression for each other. Clayman’s play positions the characters on a chessboard of politics that culminates in an ultimate showdown between the two. Shumway is a very sympathetic character that the audience can relate to the closest and Chalfy reflects this very well, especially in his dealings with the illustrious Brock. As Shumway is broken down by external forces, one can find their own conception of the medical community slowly shatter.

Alice Curiton is an interesting character whose maturation throughout the play is dependent upon a moral fulcrum that changes as she comes to realize, like the audience, the gilded nature of the scientific community.

Miller’s performance is subtle but highly effective as she guides us to what exactly that moral fulcrum is.

Pine’s performance is so highly engaging it is akin to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight – you always want to see more of him. Pine’s performance leaves a lasting impression, and his performance alone makes the play worth watching.

The set design was simple but highly effective. The hard metal surfaces, lack of organic elements and blurry glass make for an impressive and attractive set that adds to the characters’ ethical detachment. It seems like a sterile meat shop complete with a hard metal table upon which characters’ morals are butchered.

Secret Order is highly recommended especially in lieu of this horrible movie season. The acting superb, the set excellent and the play is genius. Secret Order is a highly entertaining and engaging piece.

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