Jaime Kleiman reviews the Minnesota Jewish Theater Company’s “Cherry Docs,” an unsettling look, through the medium of shoes, at how intolerance can entangle even those with good intentions.
Cherry Docs runs through Nov. 4 at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. www.mnjewishtheatre.org.
When I was a teenager growing up in ultra-conservative, ultra-political Washington, D.C., I shaved my head, I got tattoos, I danced angrily to industrial music, I threw up crappy beer at punk rock festivals, and most importantly, I always wore my 12-eye Doc Martens (which I jokingly referred to as my “shit-kicker boots”).
Did I ever beat the crap out of anyone in my badass Docs? No way. There were some kids, though, who shelled out the money for steel-toed Docs, the shoe of choice for guys who seemed to think they might need to use them in a brawl one day. Fortunately, I was never witness to a fight involving steel-toed boots, but knowing that some of my friends had them occasionally made me question the value of being seen with them. We weren’t skins—I’m Jewish—but we hung around crowds that definitely weren’t as tolerant as we were.
Aside from the kids like us—who just wanted to rock out and look tough—there was the group that made Doc Martens—along with swastikas and other symbols denoting “white power”—their de facto mascot. These neo-Nazi kids were always ready and looking for a fight, and they used their Docs as weapons as well as warning signs that more or less said, “Don’t fuck with us.” Nobody did.
The play Cherry Docs, running this month at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, is a stomach-turning reminder of the youth I left behind, as well as what modern society has in some way perpetuated. The United States, in particular, is an incongruous mix of cultures and classes, with a strong history of religious and ethnic intolerance. Sometimes, racially motivated violence is lauded; other times, it’s considered a war crime. Frankly, drawing the connection from an eighteen-year-old white skinhead to atrocities like the Holocaust isn’t something most of us like to think about. Hate crimes don’t happen here—they happen there: in Germany, in Texas, in some neighborhood you’d never drive through, not in a million years.
Thus, it is to playwright David Gow’s credit that Cherry Docs brings this reality home and remains a riveting piece of theatre. Directed by Beth Cleary, this two-hander tells the story of a skinhead named Mike (Nicholas Harazin), who’s been incarcerated for kicking an Asian man (“a Paki”) to death. His public defender, Danny Dunkelman (Nicholas Freeman), is an ambitious Jewish attorney who, for reasons never entirely explained, takes on the case. Harazin does a masterful job as Danny; every bit of his character’s evolution, including his breakdowns and pitiful, vicious outbursts, are unexpectedly heartrending. He doesn’t try to make Danny likeable, and he pushes the limits of his atrocious behavior without veering into caricature. Freeman could have tackled his role with more force, however. Dunkelman’s obsession with the case in not matched by his stoical portrayal, and Freeman often comes across like a talking head.
The play is divided into seven scenes with screen projections that reference the Jewish calendar. This is a conceit that feels forced and has the unfortunate effect of prolonging the end of the play. What felt like a satisfyingly theatrical ending in Scene Five was followed by an overwrought epilogue, which was then followed by an unnecessary coda.
When Mike pleads with the court to send him to prison and invest in his rehabilitation, the already shaky realism of the play veers into lecture territory. Gow makes a good point—as with drug addicts, society can ignore the problem, or the courts can try to educate and change the minds of the afflicted youth.
While it’s nice to think that Mike’s 360 from head-bashing monster to aspiring role model is possible, this notion is hard to swallow. Maybe that’s my own intolerance rearing its ugly head. For the record, I got rid of my shit-kicker boots a long time ago. I didn’t want to be associated, however mistakenly, with the subculture they’ve come to represent.