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Crack Cast Wows in The Soul Collector at Port City Playhouse

Jordan Wright
November 5, 2012
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

The Soul Collector brings us into the Cleveland, Ohio junk-strewn home of two African-American men, Darnell (Chaz D. Pando) and his uncle Cedric (DeJeanette Horne).  It’s 1972 and the men are city sanitation workers.  Cedric has raised the boy since his parents died in an auto accident.  We are greeted by a set filled with nostalgia of the day – old skis, a Snoopy phone, a sled, mementoes of everyday life plus shelves of figurines – the sort ladies kept on fireplace mantels.

Darnell is an untalented but doggedly aspiring Motown songwriter whose passion for music is turning Christmas carols into love songs while plunking out the melodies on a tiny child’s piano.  He is locked in a time warp since the day he lost his parents in a Christmas Eve auto accident when he was a child.  Cedric has a different plan.  He hopes Darnell will be his partner in a chicken wing restaurant.  “This is a calling,” he insists trying to convince his nephew.  “Maybe it’s the wrong number!” snaps Darnell urging his uncle to forget about waitresses sporting huge chicken wings.

Chaz Pando (l) as Darnell and DeJeannette Horne (r) as Cedric - photo credit to Michael deBlois

Chaz Pando (l) as Darnell and DeJeannette Horne (r) as Cedric – photo credit to Michael deBlois

Their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Coleman (played by Donnell S. Boykin and Kecia A. Campbell respectively), are both their landlords as well as their close friends, visiting the apartment and delivering some of the funniest lines of the show.

When a shape-shifting spirit pops out of a box and into their lives, they agree to join forces to help her back to life.  Claire (played by Lolita-Marie) is cursed by two spirits with unrequited deaths – a man who’s a washed-up Jewish talent agent and a Japanese girl killed in Nagasaki in World War II.  They decide to care for her by confronting their fears, speaking truth to their lives and letting go of past wrongs.

Washington, DC playwright and actor David Emerson Toney has written a haunting yet redemptive story in comic drama form using a mash up of familiar themes from The Jeffersons, In Living Color (where Toney was a staff writer in the ‘90’s) and Sanford and Sons as a stepping off point.  He has kept the feistiness and the ethnic humor we remember from these beloved characters from the 70’s hipster genre, but in this play our characters are have more developed personalities and the plot has deeper import.  We can no longer treat them as one-dimensional comedic figures, but are compelled to climb into their skins and even more into their souls.

Cris Dinwiddie as Wisher - photo credit to Michael deBlois

Cris Dinwiddie as Wisher – photo credit to Michael deBlois

When Wisher (Cristopher Dinwiddie) appears in the guise of a morlock threatening to co-opt their lives and wreak vengeance they must rise to each other’s defense.  Dinwiddie is brilliant, plumbing the depths of evil personified.

Director Deirdre Starnes has assembled a wondrous cast with no weak links. And kudos to Set Designer/Master Carpenter/Co-Lighting Designer, Frank Pasqualino, who has his masterful handprint on this dramatic production.  It’s a perfect piece for Port City Playhouse – deeply affecting coupled with powerful acting.  I would see it again for the crack performances if only I could steel my mind against its haunting imagery.

At The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302.  Performances continue on these dates – November 9, 10, 13, 16, 17 at 8pm and November 10 and 17 at 2pm for matinees.  For tickets and information call 703 838-2880 or email PortCityInfo.com for reservations or visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.

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