You’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution, as the old adage goes. When it comes to racism, we may think we are irreproachable. Cherry Docs is forcing us to do some deep introspection. Be warned: Persephone Productions’ latest effort is the kind of play that will get inside your head. Full of anger and tension, the award-winning Canadian playwright David Gow is posing questions about racism in our society. The biggest one: how have we allowed ourselves to fall so far from grace?
Directed by Gabrielle Soskin and set in present-day Toronto, Cherry Docs is the story of Mike (Dan Jeannotte), a 20-something neo-Nazi on trial for having violently assaulted an Asian man. He wore his weapon: a pair of 18-hole Doc Martens steel-toed boots. Danny (Sean Carney), Mike’s lawyer, is Jewish. Upon their first meeting, Danny almost walks out on Mike, disgusted by Mike’s indifference to his crime.
While both characters seem easy to pigeonhole, Mike and Danny make us question our initial judgments. Danny relates a story wherein he almost gave a ride to a few Afro-Canadian teenagers but instead sped away in fear. What racism does he harbor? Danny’s dedication to his work as opposed to his home life leaves one wondering about his motivation. Why is he so involved in a case with a man who is hell bent on the annihilation of the Jewish people? At the same time, Mike’s desperation to simply be judged as a man and not a skinhead smacks of naïveté. We almost sympathize. Mike is obviously an intelligent young man, deluded with hate to the point of being blinded to the gravity of his actions. Through the course of the play Mike learns redemption, asks for mercy, becoming a new man by the process of rehabilitation. He eventually pleads with the audience to fight racism wherever it is harbored.
The minimal lighting and set design by Mee Youn draw our attention to the fact that this two-man piece relies entirely on the strength of its players. Luckily for us, both Jeannotte and Carney not only act well—they wholly become these characters. Jeannotte’s mere presence is terrifying. With a shaved head, white undershirt and army pants, Jeannotte stands tall with an air of frightening self-righteousness. Compelling and believable, seeing Jeannotte on the street following this production might prompt one to cross to the other side. Carney tackles his character with humor and intense indignation. His delivery is well-paced and nearly seamless. We understand that this is a man trapped between revulsion and compassion. The chilling apex of the play wherein a seemingly possessed Mike (before he finds redemption) spews forth white power dogma left some audience members uncomfortable on the edge of their seats.
The only problem with this production has to do with the play itself. While the climax is riveting, the denouement goes on far too long. Despite the fact that time has elapsed in terms of the play, the drastic change undergone by Mike feels rather forced. And while the closing speech is poignant, as is the use of Semitic symbolism, both are heavy-handed.
Nonetheless, Cherry Docs asks a very pertinent question: how far have we fallen, in allowing this kind of racism to flourish, in our society and in our hearts? A worthwhile examination to be sure.
At Theatre Ste-Catherine, 264 Ste-Catherine E. through April 26th. For details, visit www.persephoneproductions.org or call 514 481 1327.
Photo by Danny Harwood.