The Baltimore Playwright’s Festival is a great opportunity for new and upcoming playwrights like Joycelyn Walls to have their play showcased. Like all new works there are aspects of the play and production that could be improved upon. In this play, the two obvious issues are the length of the play (3-1/2 hours) and the double and tripling of the characters was confusing at times. However, there were some cast members that brought out the best in the script and the story to life.
The Soulman’s Soul by the Theatrical Mining Company is the journey of Dell Eaton played by Terrence Marcus, who wants to transition from Gospel celebrity over to Pop music. However, there are obstacles in his way: lack of support from his father, Rev Ross Eaton played by Nathan Crouse, an all-white pop music industry, the inability to control his success, and the women who want him but nothing to do with his musical talents.
The play opens with an aged Jeets played by Martin Ealy who is the narrator and also plays young Jeets, Dell’s best friend. Jeets explains the back side of the story prior to each scene. Jeets is a strong character throughout the show, the voice of reason for Dell and Ealy stands out in this role.
Lester Watson played by Kyle Jackson (who also plays Bucky and Mark Monroe) approaches Minister Mosher played by Kevin Baker about signing some of his gospel singers to a tour contract. But the Minister rejects the offer but then is later seen handing money over to Watson. Baker also doubles as Ellis and Melvin.
Dell and his pals go on a gospel tour and are met with temptations along the way. One temptation for Dell is a waitress, Alberta played by Natasha White. She is a saucy woman, aggressive woman and all about getting with Dell. Alberta is not a very likable character, which means White does her job well as an actor.
The Soulman’s Soul focuses on one man’s attempt to cross-over from Gospel to pop music in a world that won’t let him.
At a dance club with his pals, Dell reveals his singing voice – acappella – as he belts out “Jesus gave me water.” Marcus can sing! Shortly, there after Dell leaves his group and takes a spot with the upcoming Gospel extravaganza.
Debra played by Quanisha Lewis and Armantha played by Terena McLorn are friends. Armantha has her sights set on Dell and is determined to tame him. She desperately tries to convince Debra she WILL marry him – and she does against – Debra’s advice. Conveniently, Armantha poked a hole in the condom and 9 months later…
Dell knows she got pregnant on purpose and leaves, forcing a broken-hearted Armantha to run back to Debra, who refuses to take her in. Though it is a tough-luck situation for Armantha and the baby, Lewis is very funny as Debra with her quick-witted zingers that speak the truth.
Christmas rolls around and Armantha and the baby are a distant memory for Dell. He meets up with his brother Henry played by Kenyon Parson (also takes on the roles of Ronald and Clyde). Enter Lilac played by Shar Johnson, an old sweetheart of Dell’s. She is sweet, soft, and gentle and very becoming as an actor. Dell claims she has always been the one but she doesn’t trust him. Eventually, he wins her over with a proposal and they are married.
Dell apologizes to Jeets, wanting to be friends again. Jeets, like so many in Dell’s life, is hesitant of his intensions. Dell wants to get a new group together and asks Jeets to manage them, then confessing he wants to take his music mainstream. Jeets gives into Bucky and Dell once again sings acappella.
Act II finds Dell wanting to target highfalutin, white venues (as Lilac puts it), and even though his voice is like Nat King Cole’s, he has a bad reputation with the ladies. Add to the mix Mr. William Jordan aka “Willie J” played by J. R. Lyston and Case played by Bob Ahrens (who doubles as MC) – two very slim-shady businessmen who want to control Dell’s musical destiny.
Dell’s focus is to cross over to the pop side of music but he is met with more challenges: Alberta is back and obsessed more than ever and he has no support from Willie J or Case. Finally, Dell’s plays the Cabana Club but it is not a success. Romantically, Dells life goes south as well.
The key element to The Soulman’s Soul is the message of dreaming ones dream and not letting others control it. Joycelyn Walls gave it a good first attempt and it will be interesting to see what comes next for this up and coming playwright.
Running Time: 3 and a half hours with a 15 minute intermission.
The final three performances of The Soulman’s Soul by Theatrical Mining Company can be seen Friday and Saturday at 8:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM on the campus of Notre Dame – 4701 North Charles Street, Baltimore. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.