You might know Colman Domingo from TV’s Big Gay Sketch Show or from his theatrical breakout performance in Stew’s Broadway musical Passing Strange, recently filmed for the screen by director Spike Lee. But finally, in his latest effort, a solo show entitled A Boy and His Soul, currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre, audiences are getting a chance to know a little bit more about the man himself.
The show, which focuses on Domingo’s early years in West Philly, features little in the way of bells and whistles. The set is primarily an empty playing space with a replica of his childhood home’s basement perched behind an old record player. The show takes the form of a series of recollections. Domingo intermittently spins a sweet old soul song, dancing along to the music, and recounts a memory from his childhood associated with the music at hand.
And he’s got plenty of fascinating stories. You see, Colman wasn’t like other boys. Even as he admits that soul music shaped his life, he won’t deny that he rebelled against his own roots, taking violin lessons and learning ballet, activities his stepfather Clarence frowned upon but which went on to make an impact on his life just as soul music had. “I wanted to be like the high-class people in Dynasty,” Domingo recalls early in the show.
Throughout, Domingo inhabits the characters of his mother, his stepfather, his sister Avery, and his brother Rick, painting each as a distinct, complex, and essentially likable presence in his life. He avoids generalities in addressing his burgeoning sexuality. It’s refreshing to encounter a show where the central figure’s coming out, within the context of the show, is not quite a non-event but more a minor issue than a big to-do.
Perhaps most beautiful of the stories within A Boy and His Soul is his remembrance of his mother and how, on the evening of a new moon, listening to Aretha Franklin’s Day Dreaming on the radio, she’d hold up her purse to catch a bit of good luck, urging her son to hold out his hands in search of the same.
Despite his family’s quirks – which are many – including the shunning of his drag queen cousin and his parents’ flair for dramatics, the key to Domingo’s examination of his past is in a phrase that comes back again and again throughout the show. That is, looking at the past with “adult eyes,” seeing his family members for who they are (or, in some cases, were), without passing judgment.
It’s Domingo’s easygoing nature, paired with breezy, casual choreography by Ken Roberson and simple direction by Tony Kelly that make A Boy and His Soul so pleasing. There are no major theatrical discoveries to be found here, just a simple story about a man and how a genre of music changed his life. For what it is, though, it’s affecting and well-done, a pleasant theatrical diversion.