Colman Domingo brings the frantic energy that made his "Passing Strange" performance so much fun.
You can barely hear Colman Domingo over his shirt — a skintight, pastel plaid number at which he plucks while he explains his love of thrift stores. “You can’t keep me out of the motherfuckers,” he crows, striking his second pose in one sentence. Shirt and show are a little thin, but the performance underneath both is so engaging that the 85-minute memory play always fits nicely, no matter how worn the coming-of-age material. Backed by a terrific soundtrack, Domingo brings the same frantic energy to “A Boy and His Soul” that made his “Passing Strange” performance so much fun.
Limbs flying, baritone rumbling, eyes flashing, the performer waxes eloquent on the subject of soul music. “I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I had no idea what ‘You Sweet Sticky Thing’ was all about,” he admits. “Now I know. Kinda!” Domingo snarls that last word, grinning into it as he bites it off. It’s this exact, unquenchable impulse to tie a bow around even the smallest reminiscence that frequently elevates “A Boy and His Soul” above several seasons’ worth of similar one-man bioplays.
Armed, after five years of development, with a whittled-down bunch of favorite memories, Domingo wants to make sure we appreciate each moment as much as the last, from his parents’ fading health to his love of the Stylistics. He makes that appreciation easy enough, dancing with incredible energy while a dozen songs play in the background, and mining his middle-class Philly childhood for its best and funniest bits.
When Domingo really gets down to business, though, he finds more nuanced moments that underscore his range as an actor. Everybody has seen a performer play his relatives during his coming-out story, but the moment in which Domingo remembers telling his brother Rick (played as an overweening macho crotch-grabber) he’s gay is unexpectedly touching. He’s prepared us for Rick to say something cruel to Jay (his youthful alter ego) or maybe just to leave him standing next to the strip club where he’s chosen to out himself. But he hasn’t prepared us for Rick’s nonchalant validation. It’s a nice moment, and not one that gets played often.
Helmer Tony Kelly keeps the action tightly choreographed and allows Domingo to give the show’s trivia — its catalogs of musicians, its odes to disco and the hustle — the attention he clearly believes it deserves. And, yes, there is a disco ball that sprinkles the ’70s across the audience for a significant portion of the show, courtesy of lighting chief Marcus Doshi. Re-creating the house in which Domingo grew up, Rachel Hauck’s set has a nice lived-in feel, and Ken Roberson’s choreography keeps the actor’s dancing from jerking us in and out of his narrative.
Ultimately, “A Boy and His Soul” is a pleasant reminder of what a joy he is to watch, whether telling his own story or someone else’s.