note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
When I visited the Holocaust Museum of Vancouver, BC, Canada, awhile ago, I was shocked after learning the Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazis had pervaded that beautiful, multicultural country, spreading their loathsome hatred and violence like a virus. Jewish playwright David Gow grew up in a multicultural neighborhood in Toronto, he told us later, but not as a practicing Jew. He was well aware of the anti-Semitic groups in Canada, but they didn’t invade the serenity of his multi-ethnic world. which makes his provocative play, “Cherry Docs,” even more compelling.
Although “Cherry Docs” has appeared throughout Canada, the US and Europe since its premiere in Toronto in 1998, Gow didn’t realize the full power of his words and symbolism in his two-man, one-act play, until he visited opening night at Watertown’s New Repertory Theater and was blown away by actors Benjamin Evett and Tim Eliot. Obviously moved, Gow called this production the best he has seen.
In “Cherry Docs,” Gow doesn’t try to solve the world’s problems. Instead, he has created a point-counter-point, verbal ballet of antagonist and protagonist - a liberal, middle-aged, married, Jewish legal aid lawyer defending a twentysomething white supremacist on trial for committing a senseless, racist, violent murder.
No, skinhead Mike didn’t kill a Jew. Strangely enough, he killed a peace-loving Asian Hindu, whom he labeled a “Paki,” by relentlessly kicking him with his Doc Marten boots, during an alcoholic rampage. During his initial interview with Danny, who’s assigned to represent Mike, he readily admits he committed the crime. Mike’s fervor is so strong for his beloved hate-mongering group, he wants to be tried as an individual to avoid casting aspersions on his fellow skinheads. Calmly, quietly he meets, greets, and taunts his Jewish lawyer, saying he doesn’t mind being represented by him. “You don’t look like a Jew,” he jeers, adding, “You grew up in a global Hymie village”. Seething, Danny spews his hatred for Mike,calling him ignorant white trash. Although Danny is explosive and resents representing Mike, throughout their seven demarcated meetings, the two form a life-changing relationship.
Alone in his cell, frustrated, Mike later unleashes his frightening rhetoric - a string of racial epithets - and chillingly intones his Neo-Nazi anthem. At the same time, Danny undergoes a transformation, weaving the fabric of his Jewishness and love for his father that’s deeply inscribed on his non-practicing soul.
In the angular, stark white, cement-blocked prison consulting room, (cleverly designed by award-winning Jenna McFarland Lord), director David R. Gammons focuses on the two characters, their strengths, flaws and motivations, that draw the audience into understanding their psyches while revealing their inner demons. Karen Perlow’s subtle lighting changes enhance the play’s dramatic impact.
Mike is a victim of reverse discrimination. He can’t get a job because immigrants and foreigners are given preference in liberal Canada. His poor family and background made him a fertile soldier for hatred and resentment, especially against power hungry-grasping Jews who rule the world, he says.
As Danny comes to grips with his own inner turmoil during these seven years or scenes involving key Jewish holidays and trial events, Mike undergoes reformation, atonement, and restitution. There’s a subtle beauty in watching these two gain respect and caring for each other as their lives change radically. The epilogue, highlighting their fate, is deeply moving.
New Repertory Theatre’s “Cherry Docs” is a contemporary, insightful masterpiece that’s a must-see.
BOX INFO: New England premiere of Canadian playwright David Gow’s one-act play, appearing through November 7 at the New Repertory Theatre at Arsenal Center for the Arts Charles Mosesian Theater, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Performances are Wednesday, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets are $28-$58, seniors, $7 discount off price; student rush, $14. Check for free post-performance talkbacks with drama, law and substance abuse and Jewish education experts. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.