Off Broadway Review, September 2009, Vintage Theater
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t done the research, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that no actor has ever won a Lortel Award (Off Broadway version of the Tony), for both leading AND supporting actor in the same show. That may be about to change as Colman Domingo (Broadway and Spike Lee’s film, Passing Strange) should definitely be a favorite for both awards for his incredible performances in his one-person Off Broadway show called A Boy and His Soul.
The biggest problem Domingo faces is that he’ll be competing against himself for the Best supporting Actor considering his unique and exquisite performances playing each of the four supporting characters, i.e., his parents and two siblings. You might as well throw in another award for Best Playwright as this well crafted play is Colman Domingo’s autobiographical story of his adolescence, growing up in a working class African American family in West Philadelphia, his struggles coming out to his family and community, and the unexpected reception he receives.
The story opens in his parent’s basement, where as an adult, Colman has returned to throw out years of accumulated junk and give it a much needed cleaning before the house is sold. Here he encounters the dusty old crates of sweet soul music LPs and the vintage “automatic” record player console which drops a single record onto the turntable from the stack, swings the tone arm in place, cranks out the magical sound, replaces the tone arm when done, and then repeats the process over and over until the last platter has played. We are right there with him as Colman takes his trip down memory lane, talking directly to us in his first person narrative. As he is thumbing through the hundreds of LPs, a particular album cover, a certain musical phrase, or a specific lyric will interrupt and carry him off as he travels back in time through both movement and song.
Much of his story revolves around music – specifically the 70’s soul and disco which was the glue for his family and his inner strength. Domingo is a talented dancer and choreographer Ken Roberson provides fluid and challenging steps to help take us back. The music and dance are also the vehicles into the souls of his family as he lovingly inherits their personae, affectations, and voices one by one. His endearing and protective mom, aloof but loving step father, chain smoking sister, and too-cool-for-words brother, each emerge in a kind of dramatic schizophrenia to engage each other.
Although a talented director himself (Domingo directed Exit Cuckoo, another one-person show earlier this season), he gets able assistance from director Tony Kelly so that transitions from character to character are flawless. This is the NY debut of A Boy and His Soul but the play was performed in San Francisco in both 2005 and 2008 so not surprisingly, it is well honed. The Vintage Theater provides an intimate setting and as we travel back with him, Domingo has the audience bopping and singing along at points, juxtaposed with moments when the tears are flowing.