April 24, 2018

Interview: Cherry Docs Playwright, David Gow


David Gow, author of the play Cherry Docs, currently at the Theatrical Botanicum in the S Mark Taper amphitheater through October, is the author of four full-length stage plays, as well as an internationally broadcast radio adaptation. His other plays include Bea’s Niece (about a female novelist, cloistered in a mental hospital), Do You Have A Moment?, The Flight of Peter Pumpkin-eater, Listen, and The Friedman Family Fortune.

Gow spoke with The Messenger about Cherry Docs, his writing process and other projects.

Topanga Messenger: How much input did you have during rehearsals of Cherry Docs at the Theatricum?

David Gow:
To my satisfaction. My wife, L. Kalo Gow, directed the show, but it is normally the case in my pursuits that I have a fair bit of input and approval.

TM: What can you tell us about the adaptations made in the cities where Cherry Docs has been performed?

Abroad, the play has been done in German, in Polish and in Hebrew. In Portuguese, little has been changed in the text to accommodate local realities. The play is set in Toronto; the film is set in Montreal, which I did not want to hide as a setting.

TM: Were you surprised by the longevity and impact?

Very pleasantly surprised, yes. In 2008, on the play's tenth anniversary, it was in London, UK, NYC, Krakow, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Montreal and a host of other cities in the US. It continues to be produced several times each year 14 years after I finished it.

TM: You have said Cherry Docs was inspired by a friend of yours who was beaten up outside a gay bar in the early 1990’s when Toronto had a large skinhead gang population. What do you think the reason is for this play still being topical?

Thirty years after a source of inspiration, yhe society has not changed that much. We are perhaps more inclusive or tolerant of some groups, but, really, I don't think much has changed in the underbelly, in how we feel.

TM: What message did you hope to convey with this play when it was first written?

The play is almost 15,000 words in length. Whatever message there might be in it can only truly be gleaned by listening to most of these words said in a proper order over an hour and a half or so. This is a particularly fast production, so unless one is counting, one will not imagine 15,000 words.

TM: What difficulties have you seen in staging this play?

Staging a play is always a rewarding challenge. In NYC, a guy in the next room worked a loud pogo stick while the actors rehearsed and someone sang a never-ending Broadway song that kept going up and up and up...

TM: I know you cover jokes about many races and groups of people in an in-your-face manner, especially the joke about how a Jewish comic lost his sense of humor. However, as a Portuguese-American, for me the two references to Portuguese stood out. For one, no one ever mentions us! And, secondly, why is it funny when Danny references an extended family of Portuguese next door?

I really do not know why that is funny, and even Danny says, "I don't know why that is funny, but it is." So it’s in the setup; he does not know quite how he feels about the Portuguese neighbors — just a certain mirth, which is usually an indication of being perplexed. I will admit it is a weird laugh line.

TM: Which version of your play has been the closest fit to your vision?

Every production I have seen and heard has been a worthy rendition, I think this one is a glittering gem, set in an oak cathedral and is really very wonderful in every way. Plus, it is a gift from my wife to me.

TM: Do you have a favorite play and/or playwright?

I like Miller, Mamet, Williams, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Fugard, Michael Healey, Vittorio Rossi, Judith Thompson and Djanet Sears.

TM: Do you have any rituals?

Just to try to finish the damn thing!

TM: Given the skinheads I have come into contact with, it was a little shocking that Mike was able to talk with Danny immediately. I would have expected the silent treatment or to be ranting and raving about his values.

In Canada and the U.S., a number of skinheads have been represented by a Jewish lawyer. Even if you hate someone, it is hard not to deal with them when they are in front of you; same for the individual or the group. Cherry Docs is about that kind of encounter.

TM: Do you think Danny, in saying he should not represent Mike, but not doing it, gave up his choice? He put that choice in Mike’s hands?

I think Danny muses on it, puts it in his client's hands, but carries on as the ethos of being a defense attorney demands.

TM: In Cherry Docs, not knowing (blow by blow) what actually happened makes the attack more powerful because the audience has to imagine it. Was this a deliberate choice on your part as the writer?


TM: Do you have a new book?

"Relative Good," a publication of a recent play that has played five or so cities so far.

Note:,i> This play recounts the story of a Syrian-born Canadian, an ordinary businessman, who is detained at a New York border because of racial profiling. “Relative Good” is published by Scirocco Press and can be found online at Amazon.

TM: What’s next for you?

Working on plays, working towards making films and making films.

TM: Was there anything you would like to talk about that I did not mention?

I love Theatricum Botanicum, think it is a great place to do theatre and see it.

For related article, please refer to Borges-Accardi's review of "Cherry Docs" at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum through Oct. 14.