Maximilian Osinski and Mark Zeisler in a scene from Cherry Docs. Photo by Caleb Levengood.
Written and Directed by David Gow
Theatre of the Expendable
At WorkShop Theater
312 West 36th St
Reviewed May 11, 2008
Rarely do I leave a theater feeling I've seen a play so overwhelming and important that I have to tell friends they shouldn't miss it. Plays come and go, but their issues remain long after their runs. Cherry Docs by Canadian David Gow is a play that will stay because its issues demand immediate attention, its writing is clear and characters human, and its actors in this performance are superlative.
Maximilian Osinki plays Mike, a white supremacist skin head youth gang member with a certainty that gave me the feeling he has studied gang mentality. He longs to be a part of something important for his people, both socially and politically. He's a youthful troublemaker, easily indoctrinated into the white racist youth movement. He recites anti-Semitic cliche lines with conviction. He has committed a thoughtless, defenseless murder or an Indian man for no other reason than he was drunk. And a racist.
However it's his reversal in this play that puzzles me. While in solitary confinement he realizes he can work to save other white trash youth from the same fate when they act on their murderous hatred. This is way too easy a liberal out. Is David Gow saying we shouldn't worry about skinhead gangs because eventually they will take care of themselves? That prison is the best place to reprogram hatred? Any and all of us who have been in prison know that just ain't so. Sounds like an utopian a solution to the very real and age old problem of containing racially motivated violence. Gow has thought about the problem head on. But has he thought about the solution?
The solution is Danny Dunkleman, a nebbishy Jewish lawyer assigned to defend Mike's murder charges. Mark Zeisler gives Danny's character a very realistic, pragmatic professional life. He's a Jewish man defending a racist whom he personally loathes. Problem is he can't let that interfere with his pro bono role. And Mike knows it, accusing him of being a spineless liberal and worse, using the case to advance his own career. Nonetheless, Danny wants to win Mike over even if it's to make sure the trial isn't an embarrassment. He's not content to merely go to court then let Mike's sentence speak for the heinous bias crime of gang stomping murder.
How this plays out and the emotional mountain climb of both characters in this play is an evening you soon won't forget. Whether you're a Jew, any Other Other or neo-Nazi sympathizer there are thoughtful, current issues for everyone in Cherry Docs.
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