Thursday, July 15, 2010

Theater Review by Irv Rikon: SECRET ORDER at Caldwell Theatre Company

SECRET ORDER, a "Comedic Thriller" by Bob Clyman, is holding forth at the Caldwell Theatre Company until August 1. William Shumway (Nick Duckart) is a brilliant young research biologist. Working in an obscure university lab, he has made what appears to be a medical science breakthrough, a cure for cancer. He is hired by Robert Brock (Gordon McConnell on opening night,) director of a research institute, who hopes to make his firm famous -- winning the Nobel Prize, no less — and highly profitable. Alice Curiton (Katie Cunningham,) a graduate student, is also hired by the firm. Highly competent, she has her own ideas about the project. Rounding out the cast is Board Chairman Saul Roth (Howard Elfman,) who has ideas as viewed from the top.

Act One lays out all of the above but has technical details that may leave the viewer somewhat behind. It's an act that should be shortened. Act Two is much more meaty and intriguing. Something seems to have gone wrong with the research. Is young Mr. Shumway not revealing all? And Alice: Why does Mr. Brock want to fire her? If the research does not go well, will Mr. Brock be out of a job?

In truth, Secret Order is suspenseful, a play in which you come to care about these people, but it's neither comedic nor a thriller. It does contain a few comic lines, but these seem rather out of place in a play that deals with the serious topic of cancer. And there's very little mystery of the type one associates with "thriller." The play is straightforward, and you know from the outset the players and something of the general direction in which they're headed.

Still, there's much to like here. The play never loses its direction. That's what helps to create the suspense. The topic is unusual: Science as backdrop to corporate dreams and manipulations. Tim Bennett's set is a marvel of design and economy. Tom Bloom's directing could use more dynamics — that first-act pace is too slow — but overall, it achieves the desired effect.

The cast is fine. However, one day after the play opened, Gordon McConnell became ill and was hospitalized. The last information I have is that he is recovering well and may already have been discharged. Director Bloom, who knows the play as well as anyone, temporarily at least has replaced him.

The Comfort of Darkness, a World Premiere by Joel Gross, on the subject of Dr. Anton Mesmer, for whom the term "mesmerizing" is named, runs August 11 - September 5.

For information on all things Caldwell, phone 561-241-7432 or go online:

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