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Theater Review (NYC): Cherry Docs

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This is a snappy little play that won't bust your billfold. It's in the same building that houses the Abingdon Theatre (Another Vermeer), but in another tiny theater altogether. Theater is being nurtured on West 36th Street.

Cherry Docs is the story of a Jewish attorney defending a skinhead. Could be trite, but in the hands of this author it makes itself into an almost excellent play.

David Gow writes like a poet and takes hairpin turns along the lines of Patrick Shanley. Predictability is tossed out the window for the first half of the play as the characters cobble themselves together in front of us. No one is without problems – or resources to handle masking them.

Danny the DA (Mark Zeisler) is a thoughtful man who likes the sound of his own voice and sees to it that we do as well. You can just imagine him playing his role in a courtroom. The skinhead, Mike (Maximilian Osinski), believes in violence that is untraceable, so he wears Cherry Doc sneakers with metal toes to kick in the heads of his victims. WE never see the docs – they were confiscated. So we rely on Osinski's storytelling skills, which are pretty good. Both are thoughtful, calculating men who turn their encounters into a sort of chess game with swords.

As the play progresses we get a free ticket into each man's heart and soul – both a little raw and both a little stinky. It's this rawness that gives the play such a lift. These men are fighting for their lives with their lives.

A little more than halfway through, however, Gow loses his way or his nerve and the writing becomes mired in exposition. Gow stops showing us what is going on and instead uses the characters to explain it, thus abandoning the fine ride on which he was taking us. The actors are left to muddle through as best they can, with Zeisler taking the lead and banking on his skill as an actor to glide though the pontificating. Osinski's only resource is to pace ever faster back and forth on the tiny stage.

This story stays with me, though, because Gow is a graceful and lyrical writer. He knows history (Romans pulled birds apart to tell the future) and debate (the problem is somehow slightly yours). And imagery: "Go through the eye of the needle and decide what part of the fabric you want to be," Danny tells Mike. These gifts will stand the playwright in good stead while he learns the ins and outs of structure.

Cherry Docs – Written and Directed by David Gow

With Mark Zeisler and Maximilian Osinski

Sets by Caleb Levengood, Lights by Ryan Meltzer

Presented by the Theatre of the Expendable at Workshop Theater, 312 West 36th Street, 4th Fl. Through May 18. Call (212) 352-3101 or visit Theatermania for tickets.

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