‘The Soul Collector’ at Port City Playhouse by Joel Markowitz

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I am a big fan of playwright and actor David Emerson Toney and actress extraordinaire and director Deidra Starnes – and I was thrilled when I heard that David’s play The Soul Collector would have its Community Theatre World Premiere at Port City Playhouse, with Deidra at the helm. And what a great team they make!

The Soul Collector, set in 1972 Cleveland, is a roller coaster of emotions – filled with laughs, sadness, family loyalty, success, lack of success, frustration, hope, spirits and demons, crazy landlords, and so much more. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget!

Chaz Pando (Darnell), DeJeannette Horne (Cedric), and Lolita-Marie (Clare). Photo by Michael DeBlois.

Without giving all the plot twists away, let me set it up for you:

A group of residents of an apartment building find out that Claire (a tour-de-force performance by Lolita-Marie) is possessed by two ‘unerved’ sprits. One is a Jewish talent agent named Sol who is waiting ‘for Frank to call” and the other is a young Japanese girl from Nagasaki. Let’s just say they both are having a tough time getting back home – to the ‘Other Side’ – where spirits live.

And it’s the story of two trash collectors – Darnell (an adorable, funny, and aspiring musician/composer Chaz Pando) and his uncle, Cedric (a compassionate, big-hearted and often frustrated DeJeanette Horne). They both have big dreams: Cedric, who abandoned his dream of becoming a Rodeo Clown, now wants to open a chicken-wing restaurant with waiters dressed in chicken wing costumes, and Darnell wants to become a hit Motown artist and hit songwriter, and all of their dreams will be financed by selling the tchatchkes – the collectibles they find in the trash they haul away on the job and bring them home to add to their growing piles in their cramped apartment. It’s finding the right ‘treasure’ to bring home to their cluttered apartment that gives Darnell a special ‘tingle,’ even if it’s for a Chinese vase made in Japan.

Enter the hilarious, annoying, and off-the-wall Landlady – Mrs. Coleman (a high-energy and enthusiastic Kecia Campbell) and her husband (a hyper and assertive Donnell Boykin), who have dangled in the occult before.They are the Ethel and Fred Mertz of the show, popping in and out and causing havoc and providing lots of laughs.

But that’s not all… There’s more craziness to come, and you’ll feel – perfectly described by Cedric – “like a squirrel in a nut convention!”

Then there is the ‘new kid in town’ – Wisher – the Soul Collector (a slimy, suave, and mysterious Cris Dinwiddie) – who has a stockpile of Girl Scout cookies. When he’s onstage all (excuse the pun!) hell breaks out. The race is on to free those souls that are making Claire ‘nutso’ before the Soul Catcher claims them for his own.

Although the first act moves at a slow pace due to too many set moves and changes, the second act picks up speed and never lets go of the audience until its spirited ending. Director Starnes succeeds in receiving heatfelt, emotional, and humorous performances from her entire talented cast. Toney’s script is a whirlwind of plot twists and the cast does a great job ensuring that the audience can keep up and understand all the craziness that is happening on the stage.

The designing team of Port City Playhouse’s The Soul Collector all deserve kudos. Set Designer Frank Pasqualino and Set Dresser  Marcia Carpentier fill Darnell and Cedric’s cramped apartment with – among other things – a sofa, a guitar, a rocking horse, a crate with LPs, a grandfather clock, an old radio and record player. a Cleveland Indians pennant, a coat rack, a sled, a shelf filled with Darnell’s ‘tingling treasures.’ I just wanted to yell, “Stop bringing home all that crap!”

Lighting Designers Kelly Cox and Frank Pasqualino set the the many moods perfectly, and with Sound Designer Alan Wray they create some very effective lighting and sound effects. Nicole Zuchetto has created some eye-popping costumes for Wisher and dresses the rest of the cast simply and effectively.

Cris Dinwiddie (Wisher), Kecia Campbell (Mrs. Coleman), DeJeannette Horne (Cedric), and Chaz Pando (Darnell). Photo by Michael DeBlois.

If you grew up like me watching and enjoying Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man, Good Times, Gunsmoke, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bonanza, and All in the Family – Soul Catcher provides many chuckles and fond memories of these shows.

Port City Playhouse’s The Soul Collector has a lot of soul and sports one of the most divine casts I have seen on the stage this year. Don’t miss this spirited production!

On Saturday, November 10, 2012, there will be a talk back after the 8 PM performance with Playwright David Emerson Toney and Adventure Theatre-MTC”s Producing Artistic Director, and choreographer Michael J. Bobbitt. Toney and Bobbitt collaborated on the recent Adventure Theatre musical The Snowy Day.

Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.

The Soul Collector plays through November 17, 2012, at The Lab at Convergence – 1819 N. Quaker Lane, in Alexandria, Virginia. For tickets, purchase them online, or call the box office at (703) 838-2880.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.