James Wagner as William Shumway, a cancer research scientist, on the multimedia set of Secret Order at San Jose Rep.

SECRET ORDER by Robert Clyman, directed by Chris Smith. San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio (Between South 2nd & 3rd Streets), San Jose, CA 95113-2603. or 408.367.7255 October 14 - November 7, 2010


Too often innovative medical discoveries are given over-blown rhetoric in the lay press only to have the story end up on the back pages when the reality does not match the promise. So it has been and is with cancer research. Laboratories around the world are engaged actively and secretly in projects to reach the elusive goals. Those who discover a cure for cancer will surely win the Noble Prize.

In psychiatrist Robert Clyman’s play The Secret Order the operative words are secret, fame, financial gain and cancer cure. Sadly, for one of the four characters in this latest semi-high-tech offering at San Jose Rep, fame and financial gain dominate and cancer research must be performed in secret. That is the order of things suggested by this play where a search for a cancer cure is subjugated to fame and fortune but not necessarily in that order.

There are two idealistic characters who are thrown into the high stakes world of medical research. The first is young naïve Dr. Shumway (a very believable James Wagner) and his equally young motor-mouth medical student assistant Alice (Kathryn Tkel). The other half of the equation is dominated by Dr. Brock (Robert Krakovski) the Machiavellian administrator of an unnamed prestigious research institute and an over-the-hill Dr. Saul Roth (Julian López-Morillas)while marking time until retirement is also the chairman of the board.

Shumway, an obscure Midwestern researcher has written a promising paper suggesting a novel approach to attacking cancer cells. His work has been noticed by Dr. Brock who entices him to work within the prestigious facility where his early results show great promise. Dr. Brock wishes to exploit the preliminary findings to obtain enormous funds for the institute and in the process share the fame of winning a Nobel Prize. The obdurate, ambitious and devious Dr. Brock has not learned the axiom, “Beware of whom you step on our way up the ladder.” The apparently benign Dr. Saul Roth is the one he steps on and that is a mistake. Brilliant hyperactive gung-ho medical student Alice, through deception, cons her way into a summer internship job with Dr. Shumway. Author Clyman adroitly foreshadows some final twists and gives Alice characteristics that reflect those of Dr. Brock that become apparent late in the play.

With all the pieces in place, Clyman uses 27 short scenes to elucidate his points as he dissects the ethics of the involved participants in specific and the medical research profession in general. It does not have verisimilitude. The fine acting by seasoned San Jose Rep actors Robert Krakovski and Julian López-Morillas supported by highly talented James Wagner and Kathryn Tkel make the play well worth seeing.

Chris Smith keeps the story moving with his crisp direction on an interesting set utilizing multimedia projections by scenic designer David Lee Cuthbert, aided by sounds (Steve Schoenbeck) and lights by Pamila Z. Gray. Running time about two hours with intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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