Playwright Colman Domingo has no time for stereotypes. A Boy and His Soul, his one-man, autobiographical play, is a living, breathing example of real life, real love, and real Black experience.
In an article from Interview magazine in 2016, Domingo (well-known for his acting in Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom and Fear of the Walking Dead) spoke of writing the piece out of necessity for the lack of positive stories of Black families.
I really try to set up my plays so that people are thinking, “Oh, you’re starting with a stereotype.”… And then I smash that stereotype and we see the heart of this person as well.
A Boy and His Soul is about Jay, a young man, returning to his childhood home to prepare it to be sold. In the basement, he comes upon crates of abandoned records and begins reminiscing about his family, the deep love his parents had, his acceptance of himself, coming out to his family, and the music that filled their home and guided his life.
The show is currently available for streaming from Round House Theatre, with Ro Boddie as Jay, previously seen in Round House’s “Master Harold”… and the boys. Also from “Master Harold”…, is Craig Wallace, a Round House Theatre Resident Artist, making his directorial debut with the theater.
Boddie is brilliant as Jay, a character who carries the confidence and passion of a man bursting with a story to tell. Boddie’s energy is palpable and infectious as he reenacts scenes with his family, taking on the personalities of his mom, his step-dad, his sister, and his brother interchangeably. Flitting back and forth in conversation with the precision and distinction akin to the versatility of John Leguizamo.
There is a second star of the show, though. And that is the music. Sound Designer Matthew M. Nielsen does an excellent job weaving the blend of disco, R&B, and classic soul through the scenes. The songs ebb and flow throughout the production, at times taking over the moment and lulling Jay into the memory of the song, sometimes singing along, sometimes swaying, and always carrying the audience with him.
Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway has created a homey basement setting in Jay’s Philadelphia house, with a wooden staircase leading down from the platform of the main level and cluttered with various, appropriate basement items like an old, fake Christmas tree and shelves filled with tool boxes and plastic storage tubs.
Wallace’s direction is seamless and manages to fill the stage with an entire range of characters but only one man, with help from Lighting Designer Harold F. Burgess II.
A Boy and His Soul is a heart-warming and buoyant story of Jay’s life. We hear about his nerdy, violin-playing, ballet-dancing youth. We sit with Jay and his mama under the stars and hear her tell him, “Keep a song in your heart, and you will always find your way.” We see the evolution of his personality and his grappling with his sexuality.
There are many touching moments in the show and I was moved to tears multiple times. But they were happy tears. Warmed with admiration for his sister, when she was genuinely hurt by not being the first person Jay came out to. And compassion for his father, when he was struggling with the idea of losing his wife to cancer.
Round House Theatre has created a beautiful piece of art, celebrating Black joy, genuine love, and Soul music. With an outstanding performance from Ro Boddie and a spotless, professional production.
Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, with no intermission.
By Colman Domingo
Directed by Craig Wallace
With Ro Boddie as Jay
Scenic Designer: Paige Hathaway; Costume Designer: Ivania Stack; Lighting Designer: Harold F. Burgess II; Sound Designer: Matthew M. Nielsen; Props Master: Kasey Hendricks; Dramaturg: Naysan Mojgani; Production Stage Manager: Che Wernsman; Director of Photography: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Location Audio: Matthew M. Nielsen; Camera Operators: John Grove and Nate Pesce; Electrician / Light Board Programmer: Cassandra Saulski; Production Assistant: Thomas Nagata
Editor: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh; Sound Editing & Mix: Matthew M. Nielsen