"Secret Order": Caldwell Offers a Brilliant Play About Cancer

Congratulations to the Caldwell Theatre, which has pulled off that rarest of all theatrical feats: the production of an intelligent summertime show. Usually, summer shows are half-assed and cynical, a money grab to make the subscribers pay full price for a show that cost almost nothing. Well, that's not how the Caldwell's new artistic director, Clive Cholerton, does things. Cholerton apparently does not believe in making money.

How else to explain Secret Order? This is – no shit – a play about cancer research. Moreover, it is about the intersection of cancer research and the politics of academia. And playwright Bob Clyman's characters talk about science — real, honest-to-goodness science — the way real, honest-to-goodness scientists would talk about it, without engaging in a lot of sloppy exposition to help the sciencephobes in the audience keep up.

If you can keep up, you'll discover that Secret Order is a wry, wise play about power, ambition, and knowledge and how those things are jostled for by the most intelligent people in the world. Nick Duckart, Howard Elfman, and Gordon McConnell turn in typically strong performances. McConnell, as an aging Nobel laureate whose best science is behind him, is a marvel of rhythmic naturalism. But the real surprise here is Kate Cunningham, a relative newbie to life and to Florida. Her portrayal of a 21-year-old medical whiz rips across the stage like a bolt of lightning.

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Brandon K. Thorp