The Jewish Nomad: ‘Cherry Docs’ is a classic Canadian play about neo-Nazi hate that a Montreal theatre company has given an update

Michael Aronovitch and Bryan Libero in ‘Cherry Docs.’ (Credit: Kathy Slamen)

During my years at CEGEP in Montreal (between high school and university—kind of like college but it’s free), I took a class where we analyzed plays that were adapted into films.

One of those plays was Cherry Docs, written by Canadian playwright David Gow. 

The script concerns liberal Jewish lawyer who’s court-appointed to represent a neo-Nazi for murdering a South Asian man.

Heavy stuff.

First published in 1998, it’s since been performed all over the world to critical acclaim.

Gow adapted the script for the screen under the title Steel Toes, starring David Strathairn—who was an Academy Award nominee for Good Night, and Good Luck—as lawyer Danny Dunkleman. 

I remember being quite traumatized while watching the film in class. Especially since I was in a setting where I was likely the only Jew in the room.

It reminded me of those educational films about bullying that we were forced to watch in Grade 2, where you actually see a mean kid violently beating up the less popular kids in his class… it was pretty horrifying to watch.

When I heard that Acts to Grind Theatre, an independent company in Montreal, was putting on the play, I was curious to hear what prompted this choice and how they went about exploring the material.

It turns out associate director of the company, Bryan Libero (who portrays neo-Nazi Mike Downey), suggested the show to his colleague, Davyn Ryall, a couple of years ago.

Davyn, the artistic director, thought it would be a great piece for Acts to Grind. But he also felt it was a bit dated, so approached the playwright.

Together, they updated several references and changed the play’s setting from Toronto to Montreal, to make it more relevant for local audiences. 

“I didn’t want it to be a ‘well this is happening over there type of scenario,” shared Davyn when we spoke over the phone. “I wanted it to be very in your face. All of this is happening in our own backyard.”

They had initially planned to put it up last year, but of course, had to postpone due to the farshtunken pandemic. 

Incidentally, with the rise of antisemitic and racially motivated attacks, they felt this story was more au courant than ever. 

“The play was written ahead of its time, hoping that things would change by now. And they’ve only gotten worse,” continued Davyn. 

“I was watching the news this afternoon and there was more talk about hate crimes against South Asian people. And we’re always seeing things locally, in the news, whether it’s the Hasidic community or other minorities that are getting attacked.”

Billed as being about “probing the explosive effect that blind hate has on society and the hurdles needed to confront it in order to eradicate it,” the team hopes that audiences will walk away examining their own prejudices and beliefs.

Jewish actor Michael Aronovitch (Danny) says it’s about learning to understand what leads people to hatred rather than judging them off the bat.

Playing a Jewish character fighting for justice helped him to connect to own ancestry.

“My own father, who I lost a few years ago, was very dedicated to the Jewish faith and community,” Michael shared. “Going through this play allowed me to reconnect with him.”

Having never seen the play performed live, I’m curious to see how it translates.

Perhaps exposing the hate that exists out there is a way of combating it. We’ll have to catch it onstage to find out.

Cherry Docs is produced by Acts to Grind Theatre and will be playing from Sept 28. to Oct 9. at Mainline Theatre in Montreal.

Watch a trailer for the production below:

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

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