Ron Simonian is a playwright I’ve admired through the years. Sometimes he’s very good. Sometimes he’s pretty bad. And I’m not sure he knows the difference.
In his most recent work, “The Soul Collector,” Simonian takes aim at hypocrisy in the form of a fictional televangelist named Lester Dupree (played by Simonian). Lester does all the things we expect hypocritical televangelists to do: He hawks “sacred” merchandise, sings badly and rants about “family values” while exploiting his own wife and kids as part of the family business.
The show, co-directed by Cynthia Levin and Johnny Wolfe, is essentially plotless until the end, when Lester suddenly receives a disapproving communication from God via a camerman/angel played by Francisco “Pancho Javier” Villegas.
Simonian is an able performer and he receives strong support from Kelly Main as Lester’s wife and Megan Herrera and Rachel Brennan Leyh as his daughters. Herrera has a memorable bit as a defender of Harry Potter books, which Lester sees as the devil’s work. And Leyh is amusing as a daughter who thinks she just might be a lesbian – a revelation that runs counter to Lester’s hate-mongering orthodoxy.
Simonian’s original songs are dreadful, perhaps by design. He performs on acoustic guitar with backup from John Lenati on guitars and keyboards.
The problem with satirizing religious charlatans is that you’ll never write anything as strange or as funny as the real thing. TV preachers are experts at unintentional self-parody – a conclusion I came to by watching Robert Tilton and the old PTL Club with Jim and Tammy in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Simonian’s play brings no fresh insights to a phenomenon that seems to occupy a permanent place in our culture. There’s precious little poetry or philosophy in his lyrics or dialogue. And much of the adolescent humor is R-rated. Final verdict: He’s just shooting fish in a barrel.