A liberal Jewish lawyer finds himself defending a neo-Nazi skinhead facing prison time. No, that’s not the setup for a joke; it’s the premise of the hard-hitting drama Cherry Docs, now playing in Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III season at Bowne’s Lab Theatre.
The title of David Gow’s play is amplified by the presence before the show begins of a pair of cherry red Doc Martens on the stage—the steel-toed boots being the weapons the skinhead, Mike (Tom Patterson), was wearing during a vicious kicking attack on an East Asian immigrant in Toronto, where the play is set. (Doc Martens may be the footwear of choice of some punks and skins, but the makers of the brand take issue with that assumption.)
Mike is young, working-class, and not well educated, although his assigned defense attorney, Danny, played by Drew Hirshfield (the names Michael and Daniel turn out to have some significance here), acknowledges that he’s not unintelligent. So why has he taken the path he has, and why did he commit the crime, to which he readily admits, although claiming he didn’t mean for it to be fatal?
Those questions are at the heart of the discussions the two men have across the lawyer-client table in Cherry Docs; we also see them pondering how they’ve ended up where they are in individual monologues, Mike in his cell and Danny in his home, where his (unseen) wife is growing unhappy with his obsession with the case and his work in general.
Danny insists in escalating heated conversations that Mike help in building his own case, which eventually leads Mike to some painful realizations and decisions. And yes, Danny may face a realization or two of his own.
Gow’s play, which originally debuted in Canada in 1998, is obviously well-intentioned, and no one can argue with its overall message of the importance, not merely of tolerance, but of love. But despite the impassioned performances by the actors (under Kate Alexander’s direction) Cherry Docs doesn’t feel like it’s adding anything new to what we have come to know about the seeds that grow hatred. It may, however, still offer some hope that those afflicted with the disease can change.
Cherry Docs continues through March 15; for tickets call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.