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Review: 'Cherry Docs' earnestly confronts bigotry in several forms

September 20, 2012|By Philip Brandes
  • Mark Cecil, left, and Alan Blumenfeld star as polarized antagonists coming to terms with a hate crime in David Gow's 'Cherry Docs.'
Mark Cecil, left, and Alan Blumenfeld star as polarized antagonists coming… (Ian Flanders )

Tolerance is an ideal easily invoked in the abstract, but it seems to be losing ground when it comes to follow-through. In a particularly timely revival, “Cherry Docs,” David Gow’s 1998 two-hander at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, advocates the hard work of emotional, spiritual and visceral transformation on all sides, without which racial animus can never be overcome.

It’s not exactly a new thought, and Gow’s earnest drama frames its message in unsubtle and at times heavy-handed polarities: a court-appointed liberal Jewish lawyer defending a neo-Nazi skinhead on trial for beating an immigrant stranger to death in a racially-motivated fit of rage (the title refers to the steel-toed Doc Martens combat boots worn by the perp).

Their conflicted relationship over seven months of legal proceedings entails some deep soul-searching — predictably in the white supremacist defendant, Mike (Mark Cecil), as he gropes his way toward some kind of redemption, but more surprisingly on the part of his reluctant attorney, Danny (Alan Blumenfeld), who’s forced to confront the deep-seated bigotry at the heart of his innate revulsion for his client.

The always-reliable Blumenfeld brings passion and gravitas to Danny’s exploration of his own Judaism and its tenets of humility and atonement, while Cecil’s highly physicalized hostility gives way to dawning self-awareness.

Performances do not completely overcome narrative limitations, in which messaging trumps specificity and credibility, but under the direction of Kalo Gow (the playwright's wife), the play makes a compelling argument that punitive retribution alone won’t solve the problem of hate crimes. 

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“Cherry Docs,” the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. 8 p.m. Thursdays (Sept. 20 and 27), 8 p.m. Saturdays (Oct. 6 and 13). Ends Oct. 13. $20. (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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