Through the eye of the needle


Cherry Docs


Written and Directed by David Gow

Theatre of the Expendable (

WorkShop Theatre MainStage, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor

April 24-May 18 (Wed-Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm)

Equity showcase

Review by Judd Hollander


The genesis of racism and hate crimes is forged through ignorance, upbringing and the need to find an easy target to blame for one's own economic and social misfortunes. It's a problem that cannot simply be cured by legislation or by keeping it out of public view. Such is the thrust of David Gow’s taut two-character drama, Cherry Docs, currently being given its New York premiere by Theater of the Expendable.


In present day Canada, racist skinhead Mike (Maximilian Osinski) has been arrested for kicking an immigrant to death with the eponymous steel-toed boots. Assigned to defend him is a high-priced Jewish lawyer named Danny (Mark Zeisler) who also does legal aid work. There is no question regarding Mike's guilt. "I did the crime," he tells Danny matter of factly. Mike is facing numerous charges, including first-degree murder, leaving Danny in the unenviable position of trying to come up with a defense. Ignoring Mike’s taunts and fighting his own impulses to beat him senseless ("If I started hitting you, I don't know if I would be able to stop" he says at one point), Danny forces Mike to get inside his own head to find out what has been building up inside him for so long, and which caused him to commit this terrible act.


As Mike goes over deposition transcripts, crime scene reports and photos in an attempt to aid in the defense of the case, Danny finds he is fighting a deeply personal battle of his own. While firmly believing in every individual's right to a fair trial, he finds he is taking this case far more personally than most. A long-time liberal thinking person and happily living in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural neighborhood, he starts to find himself questioning his own values and is beginning to see perhaps a few things through Mike's eyes. Danny also finds that his refusal to simply let this case go the way of similar ones of this ilk (i.e. just put up a token defense) is causing tension among his friends and co-workers, as well as putting a terrible strain on his marriage.


What could simply be another piece giving lip service about the dangers of racism goes much deeper thanks to Gow's decision to make the character of Mike fully formed. While definitely not someone you'd want to meet in a dark alley after he's been drinking, Mike, in Osinski's more than capable hands, is shown to be both intelligent and realistic ("I need you," he tells Danny at one point) and makes the audience care what happens to the character. Mike's also more than a bit too self-assured for his own good, thinking he has all the answers and holding the moral high ground - at least until he's forced to look deep inside himself which causes all the anger, rage, and shame he's been suppressing for so long to come suddenly pouring out. Osinski’s portrayal is deeply affecting and completely believable.


Zeisler has the harder job of the two, saddled with a character that's a bit more stereotypical, as well as carrying much of the play's exposition. Still, he brings it off convincingly, slowly transforming Danny from a person who sees things mostly in black and white to really noticing, perhaps for the first time, all the various shades of gray that exist in the world, while revealing Danny’s own complexity slowly and in properly measured layers.


The conversations between the two men, which make up about 70% of the play, are an intricate dance. Each metaphorically (and physically) circles the other, trying to size them up, pick them apart and get the righteous upper hand.


Dow uses these characters to teach, without preaching, a message of tolerance and responsibility and more importantly, to shine a light on the fact that just throwing someone like Mike in jail will not stop the thousands of people just like him that are still on the streets, each a potential time bomb just waiting to go off.  Mike's speech in court, which could be quite cloying in lesser hands, instead comes across as strong, heartfelt, and very sobering.


Caleb Levengood's set has a nice drab and claustrophobic feel to it (with many items painted a dull, grayish color). Costumes (uncredited in the program) work well, with the exception of Mike’s tattoos, which are obviously fake and bleed under the stage lights and whenever Osinski touches them. Lighting by Ryan Metzler sets the sober, tense mood needed for this tense interchange.


Dow's direction is excellent, keeping the 90-minute work filled with tension and uncertainty as to whether Danny and Mike will be able to work together or come to blows and try to kill one another. It's this uncertainty which drives the piece, as well as the question of just which of the two will come out on top when all is said and done.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2


Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander


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