Cherry Docs, which is getting its area premiere by New Repertory Theatre, is named for a pair of steel-tipped, rose-hued Doc Martens combat boots. But as titles go, this one's closer to The Big Knife than The Glass Slipper. It refers to the footwear used by a Toronto skinhead to kick to death, in an unprovoked attack, a South Asian man whose very existence he considers an affront to his "English-Canadian white way of life."
In his first speech, neo-Nazi foot soldier Mike, wearing a crisp white prison jumpsuit and occupying a dirty-white cell that's skewed like an open jaw, lectures us on "foot reflexology," explaining how the pedal extremity, "like the white male in today's society, takes the load." Much of Canadian dramatist David Gow's 90-minute two-hander is about that subtle, though it does have the guts to indict society as well as the guy so low on its totem that he turns ethnic pride into something toxic. But David R. Gammons's production for New Repertory Theatre (at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through November 7) makes the visceral most of the largely incredible play, with Tim Eliot and Benjamin Evett turning in explosive performances as Mike and his court-appointed Jewish lawyer, Danny, who, rather than phone in a defense, insists on pulling his client through "the eye of a needle" to some sort of purgation.
Gow's 1998 play, which was made into the 2006 film Steel Toes, has been performed around the world, less because it's a great piece of theater (it's not) than for its fiery call for tolerance. The Biblical imagery and division into seven "Days" roughly correspondent to the Jewish high holidays add a symbolic dimension. But it's still as hard to believe lawyer Danny's dogged, angry insistence that his client come through some crucible to the crafting of his own defense (something that for most of the play bewilders Mike, who admits to the crime but clings to the righteousness of his hate-based ideology) as it is to embrace Mike's seeing of the light. Despite the Judaic bells and whistles, the play's protracted, overwrought trajectory and Danny's extreme investment, which runs the gamut from self bashing to chair smashing, ring false.
But at New Rep, you can tell that to the Marines. The incipient violence of the performance is riveting, with Evett moving from silky sarcasm to a snarling sort of evangelism and Eliot managing to break your heart once he's shed the rock-hard swagger of a good soldier in a very bad army. Throw in Adam Stone's abrasive, clanking sound design and Jenna McFarland Lord's gaping mouth of a cell and you've got a pretty muscular pas de deux, even if you don't buy the music.