You’ll need patience to make it through the first hour or so of Jenny Connell Davis’s brand-new and ultimately satisfying 90-minute play, set in the world of high-profile cancer research. It takes Davis that long to make it clear what her play is about.
Until then, we watch the varying levels of ambition in a handful of key players in the fictional Garfield University’s cancer lab alternately sweeten and sour this cutthroat world. Amy, the play’s center, is a sixth-year postdoc on the verge of a breakthrough in basal cell carcinoma profile expressions, although the lab’s world-renowned director, Julian, seems too busy chasing multimillion-dollar grants to adequately promote her work. Julian’s just brought in a new first-year grad student, Manish, who’s eager to leapfrog over Amy even as he falls in love with her. Undergrad Makayla, the only black student who’s ever set foot in the lab, struggles to find confident footing, while Marie, the lone female senior academic, guns for the department’s endowed chair that Julian believes he deserves.
It’s all interesting enough, despite the occasional misstep into scientific overkill (metaphors don’t readily emerge from polypeptide folding, despite the playwright’s efforts). But little coheres until Amy discovers a possible betrayal by a fellow researcher, and suddenly her doomed efforts to get her due in a system rigged to favor the world’s Julians becomes a thrilling, harrowing ride. Director Devon de Mayo’s ideal cast make the finale of this Rivendell world premiere worth waiting for. v