A radioactive imagination

When Robert Clark went to medical school, he never imagined he would become a doctor, much less a top-level one at a major cancer institute. He just wanted to stay out of Vietnam.

Clark had earned a degree in English and decided he would go to medical school and then wait to pursue the writing career he wanted until he was safe from the military draft.

Things didn’t go quite the way Clark planned — he is Chief of Radiology at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. But his ambition to write didn’t die with a medical career.

In March, the Blacken Blues Theater of African-American Life in Dallas staged Clark’s one-act play, Miles to Go Before I Sleep.

The play, Clark says, is about a couple who are fighting and reassessing their marriage during a drive home from visiting the woman’s mother.

“They stop at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, and they encounter something there that makes them evaluate what is really important in life,” he said.

The Blacken Blues Theater is devoted to promoting black actors and playwrights. When Clark submitted his play to the theater, he explained to the people there that he is not black, but the characters in his play are.

Clark says the African-American experiences of his one-act play are not just for black Americans.

“We all have similar emotional experiences in life,” he explained.

Although Clark’s play is not slated for performance in Tampa, he says he has submitted plays to theaters all over the country, including places in Tampa such as the Jobsite Theater.

Clark’s other works include Love and Death in Sports, a set of five one-act plays that he says are, true to the title, about love and death in sports, and Intensive Therapy, a play about unethical medical experiments that were performed in Cincinnati in the ’60s and ’70s.

Clark has submitted the latter to the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and he says the directors there are very interested and are considering production, though nothing is definite.

The play is about radiation experiments that doctors performed on cancer patients who had radio-resistant tumors. A radio-resistant tumor, Clark explained, “is a tumor that doesn’t respond to treatment with radiation.” Doctors knew the radiation wouldn’t rid the patients of cancer, but they nevertheless led the patients to believe they were being treated.

“They were trying to understand what the dose-tolerance of radiation was,” Clark said.

The experimenters used the patients to find out — for military purposes, Clark said — how much radiation people could withstand before they became sick or died.

Even though he didn’t think he would actually pursue a medical career when he first went to medical school, Clark says radiology has proved to be exciting and rewarding.

“At first I hated it. It was very noncreative, very rote,” he said. “Then I encountered radiology, and radiology is truly interesting. It’s visual, it’s creative.”