By Michael Nichols and Becca Jennings
Mike is a neo-Nazi skinhead. He stands accused of brutally kicking a man to death with steel toed, cherry colored boots. Danny is liberal, middle-aged, and a devout Jew. He is also Mike’s appointed legal aide.
Cherry Docs by David Gow is a tight-fisted study of hate and healing as these two men pit their beliefs against one another to salvage Mike’s legal defense. As Mike and Danny attempt to set aside their differences to work together, a series of gripping encounters unfold altering both client and counsel forever.
“One of the first things they tell you when you start training as an actor is to not judge the character you’re playing,” said Tom Patterson who plays Mike, the neo-Nazi on trial. “Which is impossible because I’m a human being and, in life, I have to decide what my values are. This conflict really comes into focus with my character, Mike.”
For Drew Hirshfield, who plays the role of lawyer Danny, finding common ground with those whose values are greatly different can be confusing and scary.
“Danny’s discovery of his own complicated bias is very interesting and so very human,” shared Hirshfield. “Don’t we all like to believe ourselves to be less judgmental than we likely are?”
Though Cherry Docs was originally written by a Canadian playwright twenty years ago, the play unfortunately remains highly relevant in America today. “We’re at a really crucial and interesting point in American history,” continued Patterson. “White supremacy has wedged itself back into mainstream political discourse and culture.”
“The rise of racial hatred has seen a surge around the globe,” agreed Director Kate Alexander. “After the defeat of the Nazis in WWII, so many of us saw a world-wide march toward progress. Recent years, with tragedies from Pittsburgh to Paris, have proven a shocking reality: it can happen again.”
As Mike and Danny’s honest monologues reveal insecurities and biases in both men, Cherry Docs holds up a mirror to these complex contemporary issues.
“The tension in the play arises from the fact that when we get close to something or someone that is frightening, we recoil, and then we are fascinated,” added Alexander. “Danny ventures into the lions’ den — only to see a mirror of himself.”
Intimate and atmospheric scenes breathe truth, life, and empathy into this piece and its characters. Both Mike and Danny have moments where they are onstage being simply human: smoking a cigarette, praying, suffering, and moving through a complex web of emotions.
For Patterson, the artistic experience of bringing a complex character like Mike to life requires some serious emotional and social exploration. “The question for me becomes, ‘How do I start being this person who I feel has done really detestable things?’” said Patterson. “Instead of thinking about it in terms of ‘not judging’ the character, I’ve gotta frame it as being honest about who he is, deeply exploring what that means without making assumptions.”
Called an “emotional mountain climb” by New York Theatre Wire and “Explosive” by The Boston Globe, Cherry Docs is an unblinking examination of hatred, judgement, and redemption. With alternating force and delicacy, Cherry Docs challenges the complacency and bias that sleeps within us all.
Cherry Docs is playing in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre through March 17. For tickets and more information, click here.