Friday, May 02, 2008

Cherry Docs

"In an ideal world, I'd see you eliminated," says the young Neo-Nazi prisoner to his older, liberal Jewish lawyer, "but here, I need you more than anything." It's an incredibly cheesy line, almost as ridiculous as the presumptive plot, but David Gow's Cherry Docs is actually a pretty good play. Scripted lines like those simply help to smooth over the exposition and set the stage for a rough confrontation between two more or less racist people who will have to come to terms with their weaknesses.

With Mike, all the racism is out in the open: he regrets that the Pakistani Burger King employee he stomped on with his steel-toed "cherry docs" died of complications, but he refuses to give value to the man's life. With Danny, it's all internalized into a smug veneer: he is fearful of the local "punks" who seem far more than a generation apart, and carries himself so as to always be looking down on those around him. Mike's the sort of guy quick to physical action, with a short temper and a body vibrating with rage; Danny's a meticulous man, well-dressed, deliberate in his movement, and the sort of person to prod with words. After Mike says something offensive about Jews, Danny simply glares back at him and then laughs, a genuine mirth that turns to harsh barks: "You're killing me." he says to Mike's face -- and though it's another ridiculous moment, it's also a very telling one.

By the halfway point of the show, most of David Gow's problems have disappeared. (Caleb Levengood's set, unfortunately, continues to hang there: its plastic-draped windows and art-studio curtains far from the look of a prison conference room.) The play grounds itself on preparing a defense for Mike, which requires Danny to keep pushing him, both to prepare him for the eventual grilling from the prosecutor and to arrive at some honesty, if not regret. And it's here that the excellent Maximilian Osinski really shines (Pablo Schrieber, watch your back), all of his anxious energy focused on resisting the urge to snap. When that moment finally comes, it's more than catharsis, it's utterly transforming, and I dare you to not shed a tear during his wild rebuttal and anguished confession. Even Mark Zeisler, who is far too emotionally distant to make Danny into anything more than a walking ideal (his dismissive nature makes him easy to dismiss), seems genuinely riled by this point; he doesn't falter over his lines at all.

The play ought to end there, with a beautifully directed moment in which the two characters stand on opposite sides of the stage, each in their own spotlight, looking out at the audience and struggling to catch their breath. At this moment, vulnerable and exhausted, the two are clearly standing as one -- humanity on the stand, with all our biases stripped away. Instead, the play tries to wrap things up with a neat little bow, for the rest of the preachy, artificial monologues, even the actors look as if they are apologetic for having nothing left to say. Cherry Docs is a play about letting go: to David Gow, then, I say the same.

No comments: