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Secret Order at Kavinoky, Red Clay at Alleyway

John Kaczorowski, Tara Kaczorowski, and Peter Jaskowiak in Matthew LaChiusa's "Red Clay"

Secret Order

Secret Order, the drama by Bob Clyman now playing at the Kavinoky Theatre, is an intriguing ethical puzzler reminiscent of last season’s The Farnsworth Invention, or in some ways of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. Here, the treacheries of funding for medical research come to the fore. A young and gifted scientist working to decode the mysteries of cancer gets caught in the web of schemes perpetuated by those compete for medical glory.

Dr. Shumway, played by Ian Lithgow, seems to have made a medical breakthrough by tricking cancer cells into taking “No” for an answer. Smelling a Nobel Prize on the horizon, Brock, the chief administrator of a cancer institute in New York, offers Shumway funding, laboratories, and more resources than he had ever dreamed of, and the naïve Midwesterner makes the move. When the promising experiment runs into problems, Brock encourages Shumway to downplay the problem.

The slide down a slippery slope has begun.

Lithgow gives a clearly and exquisitely modulated performance as guileless Dr. Shumway. Here is a consummately honest man whose desire to please everyone leads him down the road to perdition. He gets eaten alive.

Peter Palmisano, who also played the sleazeball in The Farnsworth Invention, adds another snake to his repertoire. Adrienne Lewis gives an appealing performance as the student who yearns to make a difference and, in unintended ways, does. Saul Elkin is impeccable as an affable but ultimately fatal colleague.

David King provides an exceptional abstract set that allows the more than twenty scenes to move elegantly and effortlessly. Doug Zschiegner directs this strong production. Secret Order continues through April 3. Call 829-7668 for ticket information.

Red Clay

Matthew LaChiusa is a born storyteller. He has a talent for unearthing tidbits of historical trivia and regional folklore to find compelling narrative. He did this to wonderfully engaging effect with Axeman’s Jazz. In his new play, Red Clay, LaChiusa explores behind-the-scenes machinations at a Georgia railroad.

Directed by Drew McCabe, the production features the formidable talents of John Kaczorowski, Peter Jaskowiak, Tara Kaczorowski, Chris Standart, Andrea Andolina, Patrick Cameron, and Michael Reena as a litany of character types. McCabe clearly understands that the playwright has handed him a compelling yarn and the cast dives headlong into the material with infectiously appealing enthusiasm. There are overtones of nighttime soap opera and echoes of familiar Southern tales of deception and greed.

Each actor lends something special to his or her generally superficial character. The broad strokes give the paradoxical impression of a rich narrative landscape, and I found the proceedings to be entirely fun. Especially enjoyable was the discovery of talented newcomers Tara Kaczorowski and Andrea Andolina, who held their own alongside some seasoned pros.

Performing in on the tiny stage of the Main Street Cabaret at Alleyway, this American Repertory Theater of WNY production gives the script a handsome outing. Red Clay continues through March 27. Call 884-4858 for ticket information.