Prison is a Place: “Cherry Docs”

The cast; Photo by Tenneh Sillah.

Presented by Acropolis Stage Company
By David Gow
Directed by Evan Turissini
Law practice consultation by Will Korman
Judaism & culture consultation by Becky Price

August 23 – September 1, 2019
The Rockwell
255 Elm Street
Somerville, MA 02144
Acropolis Stage on Facebook 

Critique by Kitty Drexel

This critique contains minor spoilers. 

Trigger warning: depictions of violence, domestic terrorism, racism, hate speech, panic attacks, white fragility

(Somerville, MA) Cherry Docs may be the most relevant-to-our-times production this theatre season. Other area-productions will claim to be relevant (storytelling often is) but they won’t attack the western world’s ongoing white, male, hetero, cis problem like David Gow’s play. Gow even offers solutions to the problems that our white men create for us. The script isn’t perfect, but it does offer the victims of predatory, toxic male behavior a way out. Cherry Docs a more compassionate play than is credited. 

Cherry Docs is about two men confronting their self-defining, firmly held beliefs in a public forum. Mike Downey (Eliott Purcell) is a neo-nazi, skinhead accused of a hate crime. Danny Dunkelman (David Anderson) is the Jewish lawyer assigned to defend Mike. Danny demands that Mike actively participate in his defense. Mike is unprepared for what he learns about himself when he does. 

Cherry Docs is emotionally violent. It discusses graphic acts of physical violence against a person of color. The racist, misogynistic, hateful tenets of white nationalism are repeated in monologue form. A character treats these tenets as fact. Attendees should note that there is no intermission but Acropolis generously invites audience members to take breaks as needed during a performance.  

Acropolis Stage Company, Evan Turissini, and the cast approach this production with empathy. From the press release to the curtain speech, this production is designed to meet the audience where they are, not where convention expects them to be. It’s refreshing. 

The tattoo artwork is very well done. It really looks like an untrained idiot took a sharpened marker to his own skin. I hope it washes off between weekends. 

Anderson and Purcell deliver expert performances. The nuances are many and thrilling to behold. They create complicated, believable characters with strengths and weaknesses. Danny’s white guilt is uncannily relatable. Mike presents adult responsibility as an insurmountable task. 

The production has its flaws. Some of the work with minor props and costumes disconnects the audience from the performance. For example, we don’t know why Danny enters while getting dressed but he does. 

Mike suffers from panic attacks that are meant to build to a final meltdown. The audience does not perceive the attacks as connected. Instead, they appear as individual events. When Mike finally suffers his big break, the culmination of his impotent rage carries less of an impact. 

Unsurprisingly, Cherry Docs does not pass the Bechdel test.

I’m not usually a fan of contemporary plays by straight, white men that cater to straight, white men. Even if they are well-written. But, the good people of Acropolis’ Cherry Docs are using their platform to speak out against toxic masculinity, specifically that appearing in the form of white nationalism. This is an intersectional feminist action. It deserves support. Please consider attending this production for this reason if not for a myriad of others detailed above.

Besides, attending fringe theatre is its own reward. Be the audience you wish to see at your own performances. 

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